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Ness Notes: Who's #1

   by Larry Ness - 02/27/2009

Pittsburgh rose to No. 1 in both the AP poll and coaches' poll back on January 5, a day after No. 1 North Carolina was upset at home by Boston College. The Tar Heels had been No. 1 in the preseason and for the first seven polls of the regular season. It marked the first time in school history Pitt had ascended to the No. 1 ranking. It stayed there for two weeks, when a 69-63 loss at Louisville. Now, after all three top-ranked teams lost this past week, Pitt reclaimed the nation's No. 1 ranking in both major polls on Monday.

It was the first time the top three teams lost in the same week since November 2003, when the top four teams (U Conn, Duke, Michigan State and Arizona) all lost. It marked the biggest jump to No. 1 since UCLA went from fifth to No. 1 in November 2006 in the AP poll. In the competing coaches' poll, Pittsburgh's similar rise from four to one was only the sixth such 'jump' in the last 12 years. The last comparable rise came in November 2003, when Kansas moved from fifth to first, just as that season began.

There have been plenty of losses by top-25 teams the last three weeks. Eleven top-25 teams suffered losses last week which is down from the 14 teams which lost at least once in each of the previous two weeks. During the week of Feb 2-8 six top-10 teams fell, four lost from Feb 9-15 and this past week five top-10 teams lost, as then-No. 6 Michigan State and then-No. 8 Wake Forest joined last week's top-three teams by dropping a game.

U Conn, No. 1 for the last three weeks, fell to No. 2, followed by Oklahoma, North Carolina and Memphis. While five different schools have been No.1 this year, all have come from just two conferences, the ACC (Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest) and Big East (Pitt and U Conn). It is the second time this season a conference has had the top two teams in the rankings, as Wake Forest and Duke of the Atlantic Coast Conference were one-two during the week of Jan. 19.

Memphis, which lost in overtime to Kansas in last year's national title game, owns the nation's longest active winning streak at 18 games as the new week begins, after winning its 53rd consecutive C-USA (includes tourney games) 70-63 at UTEP this past Saturday. Defending champ Kansas (No. 15) opened this week with an 87-78 win at Oklahoma, which played without Blake Griffin. The Jayhawks beat Nebraska 70-53 last Saturday, giving them the longest active home winning streak at 39 in a row.

So who's No. 1? Pitt is as good a choice as any school, as the Panthers are also No. 1 in the current RPI rankings as well. They are followed by the Sooners, the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils and the Huskies. Utah is ranked No. 11 in the RPI, although the Utes are unranked, a fate shared by West Va (15), Syracuse (24) and Tennessee (25). Teams ranked in the AP top-25 but not in the RPI's top-25 are No. 17 Gonzaga (41), No. 18 LSU (33), No. 22 UCLA (35) and No. 25 Texas (38).

Siena of the MAAC is 22-6 and owns an RPI ranking of 26, while 16-10 Wisconsin has an RPI of 27, which is higher than five schools which have five losses or less. That list includes 24-3 Utah State (28), 23-4 Dayton (29), 23-4 LSU (33), 21-5 Gonzaga (41) and 20-5 St Mary's (51).

Pittsburgh has road games this week at 16-11 Providence and at 14-12 Seton Hall, then finishes with home games the final week of the regular season with home games against current No. 8 Marquette and No. 2 U Conn. The Panthers have an excellent shot at being a No. 1 seed and could just make the school's first-ever Final Four appearance this year.

That's right, not only has Pitt never won a national championship but the Panthers have never even advanced to a Final Four. That's quite a statement when one considers that George Mason (2007), U Mass (1996), Penn (1979), Charlotte (1977), Rutgers (1976), Western Kentucky (1971), St Bonaventure (1970), Jacksonville (1970), New Mexico State (1970) and Drake (1969) have made it that far in the last 30 years.

It should also be mentioned that Pitt easily owns the best ATS mark of the nation's top-four teams at 13-7-1 (65.0 percent). No. 3 Oklahoma is 12-10-1 ATS (54.5 percent), No. 2 U Conn is 10-11 (47.6 percent) and No. 4 North Carolina is 10-15 (40.0 percent). No. 5 Memphis, playing the easiest schedule of any of the nation's top five teams, comes in at 17-9 ATS (65.4 percent). Memphis (12-0 in C-USA) remains the nation's only unbeaten team in its conference.

On the flip side of that curve, three teams remain winless in conference play, after Oregon beat Stanford 68-60 in Eugene this past Saturday. The win leaves the Ducks 1-14 in the Pac 10 and 7-20 overall (8-18 ATS). Still winless in their respective conferences are Southeast Missouri State of the Ohio Valley Conference at 0-16 and 3-25 overall (6-13 ATS), DePaul of the Big East at 0-14 and 8-19 overall (4-16 ATS) and Air Force of the Mountain West at 0-13 and 9-17 overall (6-13 ATS).

Kansas (16-5-1 or 76.2 percent ATS) and Weber State (16-5 / 76.2 percent) are the nation's top-two pointspread teams, followed by The Citadel (15-5-1 / 75.0 percent) and Flordia State (14-6-1 / 70.0 percent).

Good luck, Larry.

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