Poll Thoughts: Pittsburgh's strange fall

February, 21, 2011
2/21/11
2:22
PM ET
College hoops polls might be inconsequential noise, but that doesn't make them any less fun to argue about. In that spirit, I present the creatively named "Poll Thoughts," which you can expect every Monday until the season is over, or until the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll (and, occasionally, the Associated Press) voters stop being so dumb. (In other words, expect it until the season is over.)

Last week's poll "intrigue" -- if you can characterize a silly argument about which team should be No. 1 in an essentially pointless poll as "intrigue" -- came at the top. Who deserved to be No. 1? And more importantly, why? There was a robust discussion to be had there, but instead, both the AP and coaches poll voters did what they almost always do, which is mindlessly move up the No. 2 team (Kansas) under the timeless "they're No. 2 and they didn't lose, so why not!" principle. The point of my argument was not necessarily to say Kansas didn't deserve to be No. 1 (though KU fans certainly responded that way), but to question the underlying reasons they were voted as such.

In other words, the polls are dumb. Nothing new there.

I happen to think this argument -- who's No. 1? -- is especially pointless this week. It's hard to tease out which team among Ohio State, Texas, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Duke and even San Diego State is more deserving than the rest. I would probably still go with Ohio State -- its two losses have come to very good teams on the road -- but Duke, this week's new No. 1, isn't undeserving.

No, this week's coaches poll argument comes a few spots down the line, where Pittsburgh is, believe it or not, No. 6. Seriously.
  • Yes, the Panthers fell from No. 4 to No. 6 this week. The new top of the poll reads like this: Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, San Diego State, Texas, Pittsburgh. That is a bit strange, yes? The reason for Pitt's slight fall was a one-point loss at St. John's in Madison Square Garden -- the same place Duke was throttled Jan. 30. That one-point loss came after a pretty questionable baseline drive by senior guard Dwight Hardy; Hardy appeared to be out of bounds on the play, but it wasn't called and St. John's was given the go-ahead basket in the final seconds. But never mind that. Even a legitimate loss at St. John's would have made this move a bit drastic. Is San Diego State's week -- a home win over New Mexico and a win at lowly Air Force -- reason enough to move them above a team (Pitt) with road wins over Villanova, West Virginia and Georgetown, home wins over Connecticut and Syracuse, and a neutral court win over Texas back in November? And for that matter, if you're looking at a team's entire body of work, why is the Longhorns' any more impressive than that of the Panthers? Color me confused.
  • Speaking of the "entire body of work" principle, and speaking of confusion, I'm still confused as to why Ohio State is ranked lower than Kansas and Duke. The Buckeyes have lost two games, both of them to top-15 Big Ten opponents on the road. Duke has lost at Florida State and St. John's. Kansas lost to Texas (at home) and Kansas State (on the road). Are the Buckeyes' losses "better" than either team's? According to the coaches' poll itself -- which ranks Purdue No. 9 and Wisconsin No. 12 this week -- they are. So why is OSU third in this week's poll? Because they lost most recently. That has to be the reason, right?
  • The rest of the poll is, per the usual, fine. You may have a few nuanced disagreements in the middle or lower portions of the poll, but none of those disagreements are particularly obvious or necessarily universal. St. John's snuck in the poll this week despite its nine losses, but seeing how the Red Storm have all those great wins, and they just capped an impressive four-game run with wins vs. UConn and Pitt at home and Cincinnati and Marquette on the road, it's hard to argue the Red Storm aren't one of the best 25 teams in the nation, especially when you look at the list of questionable teams that also received votes.
  • If any of those teams is deserving of a spot, though, it's George Mason. The Patriots grabbed 55 points in the coaches' poll, so they haven't gone unnoticed. But you could potentially argue that Jim Larranaga's team -- which has now won 13 games in a row, including back-to-back road wins over VCU and Northern Iowa, as well as a blowout win over Old Dominion Feb. 5 -- is perhaps more deserving than Utah State. But oh well, right? If the Patriots keep winning, they'll get there eventually. And even if they don't, that doesn't make this team's surprisingly brilliant season any less so.

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