The Bilas Index is always the best and most accurate measure of basketball merit and accomplishment, but at no time is it more vital than the inevitable point at which every single national championship contender has finally suffered a loss.
It is especially important at this point in this particular season, because, following Louisville's home loss to Syracuse, three top-ranked teams have now been beaten this season, the first time since 2007 that three No. 1s were dispatched this early. The polls, as polls do, will overreact and overcorrect, and focus solely on the latest result. And some will simply apply the transitive property to ranking teams and blur the clear line between an upset and true hoops merit.
Allow us to explain. The Bilas Index ranked Louisville as the top team back on Jan. 9, prior to the Cardinals' loss to Syracuse. As every Duke fan pointed out, Duke had beaten Louisville on a neutral court earlier in the season, which clearly (in their minds) made Duke the better team. Louisville was without Gorgui Dieng, but Duke fans said that didn't matter. Last week, Duke lost to N.C. State, but Duke didn't have Ryan Kelly, which Duke fans believe did matter. N.C. State lost to Oklahoma State early this season by 20. After the Cowboys beat N.C. State, they lost to Virginia Tech, ranked No. 148 by KenPom.com. Virginia Tech was beaten by No. 252 Georgia Southern, which was blitzed by a 341st-ranked Citadel team. Therefore, by the transitive property cited in many hoops arguments, The Citadel should be No. 1.
The Bilas Index isn't interested in the transitive property. Instead, it provides the most reliable hoop cocktail (Bill Raftery is now interested in this article) -- a mixture of wonderful metrics like KenPom.com, Sagarin, Basketball Prospectus, and the ESPN Basketball Power Index, and the ginormous brain and basketball savvy of The Bilastrator himself. Please enjoy your basketball enlightenment in the form of this ranking of the 68 best teams in college basketball, courtesy of the smartest and highest-functioning basketball brain on this planet and beyond: mine.
As always, you're welcome.
(Note: Connecticut is not included in this ranking because the Huskies aren't eligible for the postseason.)
Coming in: Alabama, Clemson, Purdue, Arizona State, Southern Miss, Arkansas
Moving out: LSU, Ohio, Murray State, Seton Hall, La Salle, Illinois State
Largest move up: Ole Miss (from No. 45 to No. 24)
Largest drop: Texas (from No. 42 to No. 66)
1. Duke Blue Devils (Previous ranking: 2)
Duke is the most accomplished team, having won five games against the BPI Top 50, and nine games against the BPI Top 100. Mason Plumlee continues to lead the way with 11 double-doubles this season, the most in the ACC and fifth-most in the nation. Duke has done it by being efficient with the ball, turning it over on only 16.2 percent of its offensive possessions, 10th-lowest in the nation, and by shooting 42 percent from 3-point range, fourth in the nation.
On the other end, Duke has defended well and capitalized on their opponents' turnovers, averaging 19.1 points per game off of them. Duke has the résumé to be in the top spot in The Bilas Index, but not without Ryan Kelly. If Duke gets Kelly back, this team can win the whole thing. Without him, it will greatly diminish Duke's chances.
2. Kansas Jayhawks (Previous ranking: 5)
The Jayhawks are 5-1 against the BPI Top 50, the only team other than Duke with that level of accomplishment. The "who did you play, who did you beat" philosophy of the Selection Committee should put Kansas in good stead, should the committee actually follow its stated principles. Kansas is shooting over 49 percent from the field, the highest percentage in the Big 12 and 13th-best in the nation. On the defensive end, Kansas holds opponents to 32 percent shooting in halfcourt situations, second-best in the country. Jeff Withey averages almost five blocked shots per game, and keeps almost 90 percent of those blocks in play. Withey also shoots 76 percent and averages 1.59 points per possession on non-post-up plays around the tin, both of which are best in the nation. Ben McLemore is shooting 48 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts, best in the Big 12.
3. Florida Gators (Previous ranking: 6)