College hoops polls might be inconsequential noise, but that doesn't make the arguments any less fun. In that spirit, I present the creatively named Poll Thoughts, which you can expect every Monday until the season is over.
The Week 11 (Jan. 16) ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll is upon us. Naturally, my rambling, random assortment of thoughts on said coaches' poll isn't far behind. Let's take a look at some of the entirely pointless but nonetheless interesting developments from the week that was:
Murray State is now a top-10 team. The Murray State Racers are one of the more fascinating poll entities of the season. Why? You know the drill: Once the Racers topped Memphis at Memphis on Dec. 11, they were going to be heavy favorites in every other game on their schedule -- particularly in Ohio Valley Conference play, where the Racers are far and away the best team in their league, with no apparent challenger to the throne.
But they were also going to be playing rather dreadful teams most of the way. The OVC is never a particularly deep league, and even by that standard it is struggling in 2012. As the high-major teams ranked above it continued to lose, how high would Murray State move in the coaches' poll? Would the Racers be held back by their poor opponent quality? Would coaches look skeptically on their record in comparison with their power-conference contemporaries? As long as they kept winning, how high could they move in the poll?
Each week, the answer has been "a little bit higher," and the state of affairs is no different in Week 11. Murray State is now ranked No. 10 in the country, per the assorted coaches' votes, and guess what: I have no problem with that. The Racers only have so much control over their schedule. It's hard to penalize them in the polls as they continue to post win after win. Is Murray State the 10th-best team in the country? Maybe not. Is it feasting on competition far worse than, say, Ohio State? Of course. But 18-0 is pretty impressive any way you slice it, and it's not like this team has only beaten up on the OVC thus far. There are solid wins in the mix, but there are also no losses. Everyone else keeps losing. Credit where it's due, right?
That all said, I wouldn't have much of a problem if Murray State was ranked lower than this, either. From a detached perspective, the situation is just interesting to observe. And equally fascinating will be what happens if/when Murray takes that first loss of the season. A loss to an OVC team would probably be enough to kick most of its similarly statured colleagues out of the poll. Will it be enough to drop Murray State all the way out? Would it hang in? No idea. And what if the Racers keep winning? Can they reach the top 5? Again, no idea. But it'll be fascinated to find out.
Speaking of the benefits of sheer poll attrition, say hello to the No. 4-ranked Duke Blue Devils. It's important to remember, despite all of its issues, that Duke is still 15-2 with one of the more impressive nonconference résumés of any team in the country. It's been easy to forget that lately, because the Blue Devils have been struggling mightily the past two weeks. First in a loss at Temple, then in a too-close-for-comfort win at Georgia Tech, then in a three-point victory over Virginia, followed by another relatively uninspiring 73-66 win at Clemson on Sunday. None of these performances have screamed, "Look out, Duke is figuring it out!" let alone, "Duke is one of the best five teams in the country!" But that's where the Blue Devils find themselves this week, thanks in large part to losses for North Carolina, Ohio State and even Michigan State and Indiana. The No. 4 ranking seems high on its face, I think, but hey: Struggles or not, Duke has earned a win -- or avoided a loss, let's say -- in its past three games. When all around you are losing their heads and/or tough conference road games ... well, you get the idea.
Indiana doesn't suffer much. The Hoosiers are dangling dangerously close to crisis mode after a two-loss week that was highlighted -- or lowlighted -- by Thursday's 77-74 home loss to Minnesota. The Hoosiers followed that up with a blowout at Ohio State. The latter is forgivable. The former is not. In other words, you could have understood if Indiana fell further in the poll this week than No. 13, where it sits just behind Georgetown and just ahead of Florida. Another loss and that brilliant early start may begin to look more and more like an apparition. In the meantime, the Hoosiers are hanging around in the vicinity of the top 10. Fair?
Louisville hangs on, too. Did you expect to see the Cardinals in the poll this week? I'll admit it: I'm a little surprised. Louisville was ranked No. 15 last week. In the interim, following that home loss to Notre Dame in double-OT (in which it scored just 65 points in 71 possessions), Rick Pitino's team turned around and allowed 90 points in 67 possessions to lowly Providence in a 31-point blowout loss. The Cardinals beat DePaul soundly a few days later, but you'd expect more than a six-place poll deduction (as it were) for a 90-59 loss to the Friars.
Welcome in, Saint Mary's. The Gaels hung a masterful offensive performance on Gonzaga in WCC play last week, and for their trouble they ended up in the Top 25 in Week 11. It must be doubly sweet for Saint Mary's to see the Zags suffer a drop out of the rankings in the trade, too. OK, so they probably don't care much about the rankings. I probably wouldn't. The win is probably good enough on its own. But at least poll voters have taken note of what appears to be one of the best and most dangerous offensive teams in the country. Deservedly so.
Other than that, there wasn't a ton of poll movement this week. Kansas State fell out, Harvard remained in, San Diego State jumped to No. 16 after its win over UNLV -- much of that was expected and doesn't readily lend itself to ridicule. Good for the poll, bad for me, but oh well.
What say you, dear reader? Share you poll thoughts in the comments below.