"Parity," one of college basketball's longest and most-trusted friends, was supposed to be a word temporarily removed from the sport's vernacular this season. This was supposed to be the year that a vastly superior preseason top five (and maybe a couple of others) wailed on the rest of the country for four months before deciding who was the best among the group in Dallas.
It all seemed reasonable on paper.
Bracketology: Bubble expansion edition
Thanks to the challenges and opportunities conference play offers, the number of teams in play for the final spots in the field continues to grow.
There was preseason No. 1 Kentucky, touting "the greatest recruiting class in the history of college basketball" (your 40-0 joke goes here). Then Michigan State, a team returning every key piece from their national title contender from the season before. At No. 3, the defending national champions from Louisville, bringing back more scoring from a title team than any since the 2006-07 Florida Gator squad that went back-to-back. Next up was Duke, predicted to have the best combination of key returnees and talented newcomers. And rounding out the top five was Kansas, the team with the second best recruiting class in the country, one including "the best high school basketball player since LeBron."
Fast-forward three months and exactly zero of these teams reside in the current AP top five. After Kansas' loss to rival Kansas State Monday evening, they have combined for a total of 24 losses.
Not only is this not dominant, it's historically bad.
The last time that no team ranked in the AP's initial top five hasn't occupied one of those spots at this point in the season? It's never happened before. Dating back to the 1948-49 season in which the Associated Press first started doing polls for college basketball, there has always been at least one member of the initial poll's top five that has been ranked in one of those spots on Feb. 11 of the same season.
In fact, over the past 30 seasons, there has been just one time where there haven't been multiple members of the preseason top five occupying that same status on Feb. 11. That was all the way back in 1984-85, when eventual national runner-up and preseason No. 1 Georgetown was the only member of the preseason top five holding strong just before Valentine's Day.
The 24 losses that Kentucky, Michigan State, Louisville, Duke and Kansas have combined for are the most of any preseason AP top five on this date since the 2003-04 season. That year, Connecticut, Duke, Michigan State, Arizona and Missouri had a total of 34 losses on Feb. 11, thanks in large part to the Tigers' disappointing 10-10 mark.
It seems unfair to characterize the collective performance of this season's preseason top five as "historically bad," but it's a grating title that the numbers and the past sort of demand. To be fair, three of those teams (Kansas, Duke and Michigan State) are currently ranked in the AP's top 10 and all five are definitely still in the national championship discussion, but it's the almost unprecedented preseason hype surrounding these squads that make the numbers at the three-quarters mark of the season so jarring.
The power five's loss has been college basketball's gain, as fans are being treated to the always-desired "wide open" stretch run. The major storylines aren't half bad either.
You've got a mid-major (a group of teams that were supposed to be non-factors this season) that went to the Final Four a year ago now looking to become the first team in a decade to finish the regular season unbeaten. You have a traditional power from the Big East looking to accomplish the same feat in its first season as a member of the ACC. Steve Fisher's once-beaten San Diego State squad, Larry Brown's remarkable progress at SMU, the complete unpredictability of the Big 12 and the Big Ten; there are as many intriguing things happening at this point in the season as I can ever remember.
We can all thank the lack of dominance from the preseason top five for a lot of the fun.