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February 9, 2013

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Indiana becomes latest No. 1 to fall

February 9, 2013 7:00 a.m. — Indiana’s latest run as No. 1 didn’t last long, abruptly halted by a loss to unranked Illinois. Duke was bumped from the top spot twice in three weeks. Michigan and Louisville went one and done when their turns came.

It’s not lonely at the top, it’s getting crowded.

With the Hoosiers’ expected tumble in the next poll, that’ll be six straight weeks with a new No. 1, the second-longest streak since the first Associated Press poll in 1949.

The way things have gone this season, coaches might start lobbying voters to not put their teams atop the ballot.

“I do think there will be a revolving door or chairs that we will have a new No. 1 or new top fives moving forward because anyone can beat anyone,” Kansas coach Bill Self said Friday. “There is no dominant team, but there are a lot of really good ones.”

Oddly enough, this season of jumbling started with stability at the top.

Indiana was the preseason No. 1 and held there for the first five weeks before a 5-foot-11 walk-on from Butler — named Alex, not David — knocked Goliath from the top spot with a floater in overtime.

Duke got the bump to No. 1 after that and stayed in place for four polls until North Carolina State’s fans stormed the court after a Blue Devil dumping in Raleigh on Jan. 12.

Since then, No. 1 teams have perched on a precarious pedestal.

After Duke’s first loss, Louisville moved to No. 1. The Cardinals responded to prosperity with not just one loss, but three in a row and tumbled out of the top 10 within two weeks.

The Blue Devils reclaimed the top spot in the Jan. 21 poll and promptly made Louisville’s lapse forgettable with a 90-63 crushing by Miami, the third-worst loss by a No. 1 ever.

Next up, Michigan. The Wolverines actually managed to win a game as No. 1, beating Northwestern. The downward pull of parity punched Michigan in its next game, a road loss to Indiana that sent the Hoosiers back to the top.

Indiana followed by getting caught up in the top-ranked turmoil in Champaign, inexplicably leaving Tyler Griffey open for an uncontested layup at the buzzer that sent hundreds of Illini fans streaming onto the floor and the Hoosiers toward a likely tumble down the poll.

“That’s a hard question. I’m not sure,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said of No. 1 teams struggling to stay on top. “We played at a high level most of the game.”

The current string of No. 1 swapping is the longest since 1994, when Arkansas, North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA and Duke alternated at the top seven straight weeks — the longest streak since Saint Louis debuted as No. 1 in the initial AP poll.

Top-ranked teams have lost six times this season overall, which isn’t quite as rare; No. 1s lost nine times in 2008-09 and at least six times in a season since 1996-97, according to STATS INC. The top-ranked team also has lost to an unranked team twice this season, which has happened 10 times in that span.

But it isn’t just the teams at the top that are having trouble. Top 25 teams all over the country are getting knocked off by unranked opponents.

According to STATS, Top 25 teams lost to unranked teams 36 times from Jan. 17 to Feb. 6 this season, most in at least 17 years.

And some were quite ugly.

Indiana was firmly in control Thursday night before allowing Illinois, a team that had lost six of its previous seven games, to close with a 13-2 run to pull off the upset.

Florida would have been poised to take over the top spot, but bumbled its way through a game against Arkansas a day after moving up to No. 2 in the poll, losing by 11 to the unranked Razorbacks.

Self’s Jayhawks were No. 2 in the poll two weeks ago, then lost to Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse for the first time since 1989. Kansas followed that up with a real stinker, scoring 13 points in the first half of a loss to TCU that had Self calling his team the worst Kansas had put on the floor since Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball.

And even though Miami was at No. 25 when it beat Duke on Jan. 23, the voraciousness with which the Hurricanes attacked the Blue Devils was surprising, making it look like the players had swapped jerseys before the game.

Parity is here and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

“What people have underestimated about college basketball this season is that there is not a great dominant team or more than one great dominant team, but there is a whole bunch of really, really good teams and even really good teams can get upset,” Self said. “And that is the way it is.”

With the latest jumbling at the top, Michigan (20-2), could be the next team to move to No. 1. Or maybe Duke (19-2) gets another shot. Who knows, maybe someone new like Gonzaga (21-2) or Arizona (19-2) moves to the top.

Whoever gets there, no need to get comfortable. Chances are it won’t last.

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