Poll Thoughts: A farewell to arms

March, 7, 2011
3/07/11
2:24
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.

[+] EnlargeJared Sullinger
Greg Bartram/US PresswireForward Jared Sullinger and Ohio State are the consensus No. 1 team in the country.
I'm reporting live from an emotional Poll Thoughts headquarters today. Why the sadness? Because this, friends, is the final Poll Thoughts of the season. By next Monday, the only numbers attached to team names that matter are NCAA tournament seeds. By next week, the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches polls become entirely meaningless, irrelevant and therefore neglected.

But here's the thing about the polls: Two of those qualities are always true anyway. The polls never matter. They're fun to talk about, and they provide the impetus for some entertaining journo-on-journo crime throughout the season. But because the polls are governed by strange rules and codes that ultimately render them meaningless, and because the NCAA tournament selection committee rightfully ignores them when seeding the tournament field, the polls don't affect the trajectory of a college hoops season. If there's one thing Poll Thoughts tried to communicate this season, it was that.

If there was a second thing the Poll Thoughts tried to communicate this season, it's that this is exactly why college basketball rules. In the end, it doesn't matter what voters think of your team. Unlike college football, the "national championship" -- if you can even call it that -- isn't decided by a algorithmic amalgamation of computer rankings and human thoughts. Unlike college football, your spot in the rankings can't possibly determine whether or not you'll have a chance to play for a national title. Unlike college football, college hoops decides its title on the floor, and 68 teams -- more than enough to claim that everyone who had a shot to win the title is in the running at season's end -- get to decide their own fates.

The NCAA tournament is the best of all possible worlds. If Plato designed a postseason, this would be it. And so the rankings we spent all season deconstructing have no place in March. For that, dear reader, we should all be very thankful.

It's been quite a ride, folks. We laughed, we cried, Kansas fans sent me vicious e-mails, and we laughed some more. Don't forget to sign my yearbook. The final poll thoughts of the season are below:

  • And you know what? This week's coaches poll is actually not too bad! Ohio State is No. 1, which should be the case; the Buckeyes just capped the most impressive portion of the most impressive season in college hoops. Kansas received six first-place votes, and I'm not sure who those voters are, but the Jayhawks did just win at Missouri to clinch a Big 12 regular-season title, so it's not like picking the Jayhawks No. 1 over Ohio State is a particularly dumb thing to do. The rest of the top 10 looks about like it should. Pittsburgh is No. 3. Notre Dame is a deserving No. 4. Duke fell to No. 5 after a loss at North Carolina. North Carolina jumped to No. 7 after its convincing win against Duke. San Diego State and BYU remained in the top 10 at Nos. 6 and 8, respectively, and Purdue and Texas bring up the relative rear at Nos. 9 and 10. Maybe Texas is a bit too high after three losses in its final five games, and maybe you assumed Purdue would fall harder after Saturday's upset loss at Iowa. But I don't have a problem with either selection, and I'm not sure you could quibble with much of that top 10.
  • For the record, that's the same top 10 as the AP poll, with only one difference: The AP has North Carolina No. 6 and SDSU No. 7; the coaches' poll has those two teams flipped. It's interesting: After a season spent touting the parity in college basketball and bemoaning the lack of a great team (don't get me started) it appears a hierarchical consensus has emerged at the top of the college hoops landscape. Fancy that.
  • The coaches poll likewise did a nice job of moving deserving teams out of the top 25. This week, those teams are the Villanova Wildcats (who have lost four straight games and won only five of their past 14), the Missouri Tigers (who have lost three straight and went 1-7 on the road in conference play) and the George Mason Patriots, who lost their spot at No. 25 thanks to a CAA tourney semifinal loss to VCU. All deserving omissions, though Villanova still got 43 points in the also receiving votes category, second only to West Virginia's 64, and that is a bit baffling.
  • Who moved in this week? Xavier, Temple and Kansas State. The first two are probably right where they should be (No. 20 and No. 25, respectively). But at No. 23, I think you could make the argument that Kansas State is a bit too low. The Wildcats have won their past six, including wins vs. Kansas and Missouri and last week's win at Texas. You'd be hard pressed to find 22 better teams than Frank Martin's at this point in the season. But because the Wildcats weren't in the coaches poll last week, and the coaches poll doesn't do well with dramatic shifts or meteoric rises, K-State is relegated to the back-end of the voting. (The AP poll has Kansas State at No. 19. Nice job, AP poll.)
  • Speaking of the AP poll, the media voters did a nice job getting surging Cincinnati some love at No. 25. But they did so at the expense of Texas A&M, which came in first in ARV. Likewise, the AP poll is missing Vanderbilt, which the coaches have at No. 24. As mentioned above, the coaches also left WVU out of the poll; the AP has the Mountaineers at No. 20. All of which is my way of saying: Who cares? The teams ranked between, say, No. 18 and No. 25 have always been of the fringe variety this season; there is very little to separate the 20th best team in the nation from the 30th. Those discrepancies have just as much to do with the teams as the voters.
  • In closing, then, let's give a little love to the poll voters -- both AP and coaches -- and not just for largely getting the final poll of the regular season basically right. No, after a season spent ridiculing the voting in both polls, and questioning the very existence of said polls in the first place, and telling you that the polls don't matter so-let's-talk-about-them-anyway-but-no-one-get-too-worked-up, let's thank the voters for diligently handling their business each week all the same. The hard core hoops fan doesn't need weekly polls, but warts and all, the writers and the coaches (and SIDs) do provide a handy guide for casual viewers on a weekly basis. They do so thanklessly and in relative anonymity. And even if some coaches don't take the job all that seriously -- USC coach Kevin O'Neill called the poll a "farce" in January -- at least they manage to put something worth ridiculing together.
  • As the intro of this post has said all season, the polls might be inconsequential noise, but that doesn't make them any less fun to talk about. So thank, you voters, for giving us some dumb fun each Monday. We salute you. And thank you, readers, for joining in said fun. We salute you, too. Now let's get this March party started.

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