Houston No. 1 in AP Poll. But Do Cougars Have Best March Madness Resume?

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Men’s college basketball has a new top-ranked team.

Houston, two days after knocking off then-No. 11 Baylor 82-76 on the road in overtime, jumped up one spot to No. 1 in Monday’s latest Associated Press (AP) Top 25 poll. Purdue came in at No. 2, followed by defending champion UConn, which had occupied the top spot in each of the six previous weeks before a 19-point loss to then-No. 15 Creighton on Tuesday, at No. 3. And so continues a three-squad battle to be ranked as the sport’s best team by AP.

With only a few weeks before Selection Sunday, the Cougars, Boilermakers and Huskies have separated themselves from the rest of the basketball pack. Each team has been ranked No. 1 in the AP poll over the last two months—not that the poll necessarily translates to the selection committee’s thinking—and all three schools received first-place votes this week.

These programs are safely on the one-seed line in the coming bracket mania. All of them have a justifiable case for the top overall seed. But which team might have the edge?

As the regular season winds down and conference tournaments approach, take a look at how Houston, Purdue and UConn stack up, utilizing some of the key criteria the NCAA Tournament selection committee is likely to look at.

Jamal Shead, #1 of the Houston Cougars, on Saturday celebrates in the final seconds of the team’s victory over the Baylor Bears in overtime at Foster Pavilion in Waco, Texas. Houston moved up to No….


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Houston Cougars (24-3)

NET Ranking: No. 1

Quad 1 Record: 7-3

BPI Ranking: No. 1

KPI Ranking: No. 2

BartTorvik Ranking: No. 1

Strength of Schedule: 27th

KenPom Ranking: No. 1 (16th-ranked offense, top defense)

ESPN Bracketology Prediction: Third No. 1 seed, South Region

Houston rising to No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time this season backs up what the computers have been saying for weeks. The Cougars have been the top-ranked team in the Ken Pomeroy rankings since the start of December, and also own the premier position in the NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool), BPI (ESPN’s Basketball Power Index) and BartTorvik metrics.

The NET is the NCAA’s official evaluation tool, which blends game results, team efficiency, strength of schedule and the quality of wins and losses. KenPom is perhaps the most respected analytics tool for hoops fanatics, while BPI measures what ESPN calculates to be a team’s strength moving forward, KPI ranks each team’s wins and losses on a positive-to-negative scale and BartTorvik works similarly to KenPom but emphasizes this season’s trends rather than historical data.

A much shorter answer—many of these instruments have considered Houston the most consistently dominant team in men’s college basketball for a while now.

All three teams here have three losses on the season, though Houston’s may be the “best” of any, all coming against top-four Big 12 teams. Adding two top-15 victories into the resume mix last week also didn’t hurt the Cougars, who also just beat then-No. 6 Iowa State. In fact, it addressed what may have been the biggest critique against Houston, whose Quad 1 record pales compared to those of UConn and Purdue. Still, Kelvin Sampson’s team is atop perhaps the most loaded conference in the country (in the program’s first season in the Big 12, no less) and, like Purdue, is all but a lock to earn a No. 1 seed for a second consecutive year.

Purdue Boilermakers (25-3)

NET Ranking: No. 2

Quad 1 Record: 9-3

BPI Ranking: No. 2

KPI Ranking: No. 1

BartTorvik Ranking: No. 2

Strength of Schedule: Ninth

KenPom Ranking: No. 2 (Second-ranked offense, 21st-best defense)

ESPN Bracketology Prediction: First No. 1 seed, Midwest Region

Purdue was unanimously picked as the top overall seed when the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee unveiled its top 16 teams earlier this month. A loss to unranked Ohio State since has clouded the picture a little bit, though the Boilermakers are still firmly in contention to earn that luxury during the final bracket reveal.

No team in the country, not even Houston or UConn, may have the resume to match Purdue’s combination of analytical love and noteworthy wins.

Over a three-day stretch in November alone, Matt Painter’s team downed Gonzaga, Tennessee and Marquette, schools ranked 23rd, fourth and fifth in this week’s AP poll, respectively. Purdue is tied with UConn for the most Quad 1 wins in the nation, locked at the top with seven Quad 2 wins and unblemished outside of Quad 1 territory. Led by reigning Wooden Award-winner Zach Edey, the heavy favorite to earn the trophy again, Purdue is No. 1 in the KPI rankings and places second in the other key metrics. And that position can be improved upon during a three-game stretch to end the regular season that includes matchups with three Big Ten teams in tournament territory—Michigan State (17-11), No. 13 Illinois (20-7) and Wisconsin (18-9).

UConn Huskies (25-3)

NET Ranking: No. 3

Quad 1 Record: 9-3

BPI Ranking: No. 3

KPI Ranking: No. 6

BartTorvik Ranking: No. 3

Strength of Schedule: 43rd

KenPom Ranking: No. 3 (Third-ranked offense, 20th-best defense)

ESPN Bracketology Prediction: Second No. 1 seed, East Region

UConn, which busted brackets as a No. 4 seed during last year’s March Madness title run, has avoided a championship hangover and poised to earn a No. 1 spot in its preferred region in this year’s tournament (Houston and Purdue also seemingly will) whether that comes as the top overall seed or not.

Dan Hurley’s squad starts this week ranked third in NET, KenPom and most other analytical tools, though bracketology guru Joe Lunardi has the Huskies as the second No. 1 seed. UConn bounced back from its Creighton defeat to blow out Villanova over the weekend, and faces three teams right below it in the Big East standings over the next 1 1/2 weeks. UConn, like Purdue, has not lost a non-Quad 1 game. This coming slate serves as an opportunity for the Huskies—who have four wins against teams in this week’s top 25, including two against current top-10 programs—to boost up their elite Quad 1 resume even more in an attempt to get out ahead of other teams in the one-seed pack.