|Sure, Ohio State might not be AS good as Kentucky right now, but they're not that far behind. (Getty Images)|
By Matt Norlander
Let's not go lose ourselves in the moment.
Let's not say Kentucky's better than everyone else right now by a significant margin. I know a lot of you want to. I know many want the two or three really big, really easy, really fun storylines to push and discuss and squeeze the sport into an easy, five-minute conversation. But to say Kentucky is indisputably hovering over the landscape is premature. College basketball still has another one-loss team in Syracuse, after all. But I'm not even going to address the Orange right now. They're good, and I likely won't think any less of them tonight, should they lose to rival Georgetown.
Ohio State is the one I've got my eye on. You know, the team who also has a player-of-the-year candidate, multiple future pros and a defense that's better than anyone's, statistically, in the country. The Buckeyes absolutely deserve inclusion into the club -- not that they ever were unworthy enough to get kicked out. In the wake of Kentucky's cruise-control win over Florida last night, and surely with commentary cooking in the oven right now, you'd be easily led to believe college hoops' hierarchy looks like this:
Fill in the rest
In reality, it's more like this:
Right now, that's the fair configuration. If you wanted to put Missouri in the top group, I wouldn't argue all that much, either. Remember, when it comes to Ohio State, we're talking about a team that's the best in points per possession defense. Kentucky, known for its D with Anthony Davis, actually has moved into the best offense, surpassing Missouri. Ohio State: No. 1 in adjusted defense, No. 9 in adjusted offense. Kentucky: Tops in offense, No. 7 in D. There's not that much difference between the two right now.
The Buckeyes allow .84 PPP, tied with Wisconsin for tops in the country. In KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency, tOSU is still tops, even after a miserable defensive performance against Purdue. It was in the mid-.70s until Purdue went on a 3-point bonanza at Value City Arena Tuesday night. Ohio State forces more turnovers and gives it away less, too.
I do think Kentucky's better than Ohio State. I was the only one here at CBS HQ who picked UK to win it all in the preseason, and I've never wavered on that. But I think OSU belongs on the same shelf right now. The Buckeyes have one of the best defenders in college basketball, too. For all that Anthony Davis does to block and alter shots (by the way, Davis is the most efficient offensive player in the nation. Ridiculous.), Aaron Craft causes as much havoc lower to the floor. Seriously: check the stats and see how much damage he does. He's the compact, scarlet-and-gray version of Davis for OSU's D.
Also, take a look at the overall strength of schedule, Ohio State: 34. Kentucky: 71. And UK, as many have pointed out, still has road games against the SEC's best remaining. We're cruising into mid-February and it's great to see these teams mold into their true selves, but we've still got lots of ball to see. To say Kentucky definitively lifted itself above the riffraff last night is premature. In time, they can, and in a way, I hope they do, because I love domination in sports. It creates polarity and polarity drives interest.
The good news is, I think we get a real verdict on this in the coming two weeks. Ohio State gets Michigan State at home this weekend, then goes to Minnesota and Michigan. It needs to win all three to remain elite, most likely. Kentucky has Vandy on the road Saturday, then gets Mississippi State in Starkville on Feb. 21.
If there's this desire to make Kentucky College Basketball's Great Team, why can't we extend that to two, three or four other teams? All have viable cases at the moment.