Though conference standings provide a benchmark for regional supremacy and bragging rights, when it comes to the NCAA Tournament there’s far more at stake for teams who top the nation’s polls.
Undoubtedly, the Ohio State men’s basketball squad is one of those teams. As the country’s No. 1 team, coach Thad Matta’s crew is priming itself for a run at the National Championship. To set themselves up for the most favorable path to the Final Four, the Buckeyes will need to keep winning games to solidify their position as the No. 1 overall seed.
“They’re playing better than anybody, except maybe Texas,” said Jerry Palm of CBS Sports. “Nobody’s beaten them yet, so I think you have to go with Ohio State (as the top team).”
Being the only undefeated team in college basketball, OSU sits atop The Associated Press‘ Top 25 poll after a unanimous vote this week. Kansas (20-1), Texas (18-3) and Pittsburgh (20-2) round out the top four in the poll, but Palm isn’t convinced it’s those three teams that will earn the three remaining No. 1 seeds.
“I don’t have Kansas as a one (seed); I have Connecticut instead,” Palm said. “I’m waiting for Kansas to beat somebody before I put them as a one (seed).”
Palm said Connecticut has numerous quality wins, including against then-No. 2 Michigan State, No. 9 Kentucky, No. 12 Texas and No. 7 Villanova.
On the other hand, Kansas has only one win against a Top 25 team as it beat No. 14 Memphis on Dec. 7.
Also on the periphery of the No. 1 seed discussion are Mountain West schools San Diego State (21-1) and Brigham Young (20-2), who hold the No. 7 and No. 8 spots in the AP poll, respectively.
“I think they’re good teams,” Palm said. “I think they have to put up gaudy records to be No. 1 seeds — one or two losses at best.”
Despite being behind San Diego State in the polls, Brigham Young beat the Aztecs, 71-58, on Jan. 26 behind Jimmer Fredette’s game-high 43 points. Fredette, who leads the country in scoring at 27.6 points per game, is also a top candidate to be the Naismith College Player of the Year.
The two teams play each other again Feb. 26 in San Diego, a game that could end the hopes of earning a No. 1 seed for the loser.
While the Buckeyes know the importance of earning a No. 1 seed for the tournament, it’s still too early in the season to hear about anything other than their focus on the next game.
“We just take one game at a time,” junior guard William Buford said. “We try to get better and better day by day. We just try to worry about us, who we’re going to play next and how we’re going to beat them.”
Amid last week’s flurry of Top 10 team upsets, including Pittsburgh, Duke (19-2) and Kentucky (16-5), Matta said his team couldn’t afford to waste time worrying about other teams. Matta said there are lessons to be learned from other top teams getting knocked off.
“We only worry about ourselves. You’re going to have those types of games over the course of the Big Ten. Maybe it opens our guys’ eyes a little bit more and lets them know that things can happen, which is always a good thing for our guys to understand that,” Matta said. “I think these guys are smart enough to know that if we don’t come to play, if we’re not tuned into what we have to do, we’ll lose, and I think it’s as simple as that.”
The team next travels to Minneapolis to play Minnesota at 2 p.m. Sunday.