Who is the top team in college basketball today? By record, Wichita State stands alone with zero losses; by the polls, Florida is number one; and by the Pomeroy or Sagarin ratings, Arizona is best. But by another, much more fun standard, the nation’s top team is Duquesne — yes, the 12-15 Dukes, at 10th place in the Atlantic 10. By upsetting St. Louis on the road last night, Duquesne claimed the College Basketball Championship Belt, ending the Billikens’ seven-week reign.
The rules of the College Basketball Championship Belt are simple: If you beat the owner of the Belt, you win the Belt, becoming the new champion.* To start the season, the Belt is owned by the reigning NCAA tournament winner; it will likely bounce around one conference for most of January and February, when all teams settle into intraleague play. Fortunately, since nearly every team ends its season with a do-or-die tournament, the NCAA tournament champion is all but guaranteed to rightfully own the Belt as well.
Duquesne’s first attempt to defend the Belt will come against UMass next week. Here’s who has owned the Belt so far this year:
After having several owners early in the season, the Belt fit St. Louis just right — the Billikens’ streak of 51 days (and 11 successful title defenses) is the third-longest championship run of the past decade. The Belt is largely inspired by pro wrestling, so it is fitting that its history has been dominated by a classic heel — both of the decade’s longest streaks belong to Duke. The Blue Devils won the Belt from West Virginia in the Final Four of the 2010 tournament; they retained it with a win over Butler in the final, then defended it with 15 straight wins in the 2010-11 season, finally losing it to Florida State on January 12. Early last year, Duke pulled off another two-month run, taking the Belt from Kentucky on November 13 and defending it 13 times before losing at North Carolina State.
Aside from Duke’s dominance, recent years have gone about as you’d expect, with the Belt bouncing between major-conference teams for most of the season. (BC held the title for one game in February 2013, amid a remarkable streak of nine straight losses by Belt holders; Harvard won the Belt at the 2012 Battle 4 Atlantis before losing it to Connecticut ten days later.) But the late 200s were less predictable. In both 2007-08 and 2008-09, the Belt made its way to the Horizon League for the start of conference play — only to see the Missouri Valley Conference steal it in BracketBusters. In 2003-04, like this year, it spent league play in the Atlantic 10 (and Duquesne even won the Belt that season as well, earning it with an upset of Xavier in mid-January).
By far the wildest year in the Belt’s recent history, though, was 2007, when 7/11ths of the Southern Conference claimed the championship at some point in the season, only to see it finish back where it started: