ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan has spent the first month of the college basketball season unranked because of uncertainty surrounding Juwan Howard and the loss of three key players, but the Wolverines deserved to be the No. 1 team in the country when the new poll came out Monday.
UPDATE: Michigan was ranked No. 4 in Monday’s AP poll behind Louisville, Kansas and Maryland. The Wolverines received nine first-place votes.
Michigan traveled to the Bahamas as a bit of an afterthought in a loaded Battle 4 Atlantis field. The tournament included No. 6 North Carolina, No. 8 Gonzaga, No. 11 Oregon and No. 13 Seton Hall, as well as Iowa State, Alabama and Southern Miss.
Most Michigan fans were probably hoping the Wolverines could escape with one or two wins, considering the powerful potential matchups. Instead, Howard’s team ripped off three dominant performances, beating Iowa State, North Carolina and Gonzaga by a combined 34 points.
Suddenly, Michigan is 7-0 with wins over the No. 6 and No. 8 teams in the country on a neutral court. It also has solid major conference wins over Iowa State and Creighton. Those four wins stack up with any other resume in the nation.
Narrowing the field
Of the 353 college basketball teams in Division I, only 20 remain undefeated. This early in the season, the No. 1 team in the country should be undefeated unless it has an overwhelmingly strong resume.
That isn’t the case this year, so the race for No. 1 can be narrowed down to these 20 undefeated teams:
- Ohio State
- Oklahoma State
- San Diego State
- West Virginia
Right away we can eliminate Auburn, Delaware, Duquesne, Indiana, Liberty, SMU and UTEP. Those seven teams haven’t won a single game against major conference or ranked opponents.
Since Michigan has two wins over ranked teams, we can also eliminate any teams that don’t have a single win over a ranked opponent: Arizona, Arkansas, Butler, Colorado, DePaul, Louisville, Maryland, Oklahoma State, San Diego State, Virginia and West Virginia.
That leaves just two teams: Michigan and Ohio State. Those are the only two teams in the country that are undefeated and have wins over teams currently ranked in the top 25.
Other teams that have wins over currently ranked teams: Baylor, Connecticut, Creighton, Duke, Evansville, Florida, Florida State, Gonzaga, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina, Oregon, Purdue, Saint Mary’s, Stephen F. Austin, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Washington.
Florida State, Oregon and Tennessee each have two wins over currently ranked teams, but all three have either lost two games or lost to an unranked opponent.
Michigan vs. Ohio State
It doesn’t take much of a look to realize Michigan’s resume is much better than Ohio State’s resume at this point in the season. That’s not really a result of anything Ohio State has done wrong, but more so because Michigan has had more opportunities for quality wins.
Ohio State demolished No. 22 Villanova at home, winning by 25 points. It also has a home win over a solid Cincinnati team that’s currently 5-2. After those wins, though, Ohio State’s schedule is full of cupcakes.
Michigan has two wins against teams ranked higher than Villanova. Those were both on neutral courts. The Wolverines also have more depth in their resume with the Iowa State and Creighton wins.
We won’t know which team is actually better until early February, but for now, the resumes aren’t comparable.
What does it mean?
Being ranked No. 1 in the AP college basketball poll the first week of December doesn’t mean much, but it would have been a nice reward for Howard’s team just weeks into his tenure.
Michigan tied the largest jump for a team in AP poll history, which came in 1989 when Kansas went from unranked to No. 4.
Is Michigan the best team in the country? Probably not. There are more talented teams, including Michigan’s next opponent: No. 1 Louisville.
But for a team that many (including myself) expected to be on the NCAA Tournament bubble this season, Michigan has already put some incredible wins on the resume. The Wolverines need to prove they can win on the road, but right now they look like a competitor in the Big Ten.
The Juwan Howard era is only seven games old, and we need to see how some of Michigan’s unproven players handle the grind of a full college basketball season. But so far, this team is the talk of college basketball, and deservedly so.