Bilas Index: Top 68 rankings
Syracuse maintains top spot while a handful of teams make major leaps
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said recently that college basketball is better than ever. While The Bilastrator agrees that the game is as fun and exciting as ever (and when The Bilastrator agrees with you, you know you are right), The Bilastrator differs with the great and mighty "Heimer" that there is "parity" in college basketball.
These days, it seems that there is one singular explanation for every win or loss: parity. I disagree. "Parity" has served as an excuse for coaches losing games and has been an excuse for analysts failing to analyze the games, as well as the overall college basketball landscape.
Those who question the use of the term parity are seen as climate-change deniers, but there are some interesting questions. Start with a basic one: When did parity arrive? Was it when George Mason went to the Final Four in 2006? Or was it when Penn and Indiana State did exactly the same thing in 1979? Was it when Wichita State went to the Final Four last year, or was it when Wichita State went to the Final Four in 1965, the Elite Eight in 1981 or the Sweet 16 in 2006 (before losing to George Mason)?
Here's another question: If parity now reigns, why have some programs been putting up consistently excellent results? Syracuse is off to a 23-0 start, its best in history, but it is the second time in three years the Orange has gotten off to a historic start. Remember, Syracuse started 20-0 two seasons ago. And, in this age of parity, Syracuse has had its best five-year winning percentage in its history. Similarly, Wichita State is off to a historic start, but so is Arizona. Virginia has clinched a winning record in the ACC for three straight years for the first time since Ralph Sampson was on The Lawn. Those are just a few examples. There are hundreds more. Gonzaga has dominated its league for more than a decade. Kansas has dominated its league for more than a decade. Duke and North Carolina have dominated their league forever, and teams aren't rising up -- they only fall back in a rare year.
This year, despite the best efforts of parity, we had three unbeaten teams in February, the first time since 1979. We have 11 teams out there with three or fewer losses, and eight teams with two or fewer losses.
The issue isn't that a few mid-major teams have made a Final Four. If there is parity, the question is: Why aren't more teams doing it? And why aren't more teams winning regular-season and NCAA tournament games?
So, I'll ask again, when exactly did parity arrive on our scene? Nobody seems to have an answer to that. You know why? There isn't one. Parity doesn't exist. Or, if it does exist, we have always had it in college basketball. Teams like Wichita State and San Diego State are achieving their status because they are good teams. The same as Syracuse and Michigan State and Arizona, the Shockers and Aztecs have earned their impressive records with their play, not because parity is pulling all teams toward the middle.
But, here's a more interesting question? How do we properly evaluate how all of these good teams stack up? Well, naturally with the best indicator of true basketball accomplishment ever devised.
The Bilas Index is the best and most accurate measure of basketball achievements in this planet's history. It is based upon the most powerful force in the modern game, the gray matter of The Bilastrator. Those super-cranial abilities are supplemented by the most reliable and trusted metrics in the game, including but not limited to KenPom.com, Sagarin, the UPS Team Performance Index, ESPN's Basketball Power Index and Synergy Sports Technology.
And, as always, you're welcome.
Moving in: Saint Mary's, St. John's, Mississippi, Stephen F. Austin
Moving out: Mercer (65), Nebraska (66), Indiana State (59)
1. Syracuse Orange (Previous ranking: 1)
The Orange have been very good this season, getting off to a historic start. But the best attribute of this team is its ability to seize the moment and finish games. The numbers do not suggest an unbeaten team. In ACC play, Syracuse ranks ninth in scoring offense, fourth in field goal percentage defense, sixth in 3-point accuracy and 10th in 3-point field goals made. But if you were to chart the Orange's efficiency on offense and defense when the game is on the line, there would be few teams that could match Syracuse. C.J. Fair is Syracuse's best player and Tyler Ennis is its most valuable, but Trevor Cooney isn't far behind Ennis. Cooney is the only consistent perimeter threat, and he is an excellent runner off of screens and an outstanding cutter. Cooney makes shots, as evidenced by his 33 points (9-of-12 from 3-point range) against Notre Dame. However, even if Cooney doesn't make shots, the threat of making shots opens up things for others. And, despite a subpar game against Notre Dame, Fair was outstanding against Duke and Clemson. He has been a rock for the Orange all season. Syracuse has the most difficult finish of any ACC team, with road games at Pittsburgh, Duke and Virginia.
To read Jay Bilas' full ranking and analysis of the top 68 teams in college basketball, you must be an ESPN Insider.
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John Gasaway says despite the flaws some observers see in Arizona, the Wildcats have a similar profile to mighty Kentucky.
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