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.
Week 12. Jan. 23. The old No. 1 finally fell to a conference road opponent. It was bound to happen eventually, and it kick-started the rather brief, apparently not-so-difficult ceremony of crowning a new No. 1. That team: Kentucky. No shock there.
No, this week's real surprise comes at the bottom of the poll, where the poor Florida State Seminoles, in so far as they care about a Top-25 ranking -- and let's hope that's not the case, because why would you? -- must be asking themselves what else they need to do. That and more in this week's Poll Thoughts, fresh off the pixilated digital presses:
Harsh: That's the word that first came to mind when viewing this bottom portion of this week's ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. Why? Because Florida State -- the team that just beat then-No. 4 Duke on its home floor only seven days after blitzing then-No. 3 North Carolina by 33 points at home -- is merely "also receiving votes" in the Week 12 poll. Wait ... huh?
And instead of Florida State is, for some reason, Louisville. Sorry, but Saturday night's win at Pittsburgh isn't a normal Saturday night win at Pittsburgh, not this season, and the Cardinals haven't done much since the Jan. 10 blowout at Providence to convince anyone of their quality. The Associated Press recognized as much, leaving Louisville out of the poll. (The Cardinals aren't even the top team receiving votes in the AP poll this week either.) But somehow, the coaches found a spot for Louisville -- and Kansas State (questionable) and Connecticut (very questionable at No. 19) and a handful of other teams that don't have a single win as good as Florida State's, let alone two in the past week.
There's something to be said for evaluating a team's entire accomplishments in the poll voting: You don't want to give too much emphasis to recent play or overwhelming momentum. I get that. However you break it down, though, the Seminoles have to be considered a Top-25 team this week. Ignoring them is just, well, harsh.
Oh, and about Connecticut: Brand is a powerful force in college hoops. What else explains Connecticut's ability to stay in the coaches' poll -- to barely flirt with the very bottom margins of the rankings -- despite its recent play? The Huskies fell to just No. 19 from No. 11 this week, despite a home loss to Cincinnati and a road loss to the rebuilding Tennessee Volunteers. Those losses marked UConn's third and fourth in its past six games. Despite all that talent, this team is struggling in fundamental ways; it doesn't appear to defend nearly as well as it did last season, for one. We keep waiting for this team to figure it out. It hasn't. Apparently, the coaches are still holding out for some imminent improvement. That, or they just haven't been paying attention.
Syracuse drops to No. 4: "Harsh" probably fits well here too. The Orange lost their first game of the season Saturday. They did so on the road, without sophomore center Fab Melo. Perhaps Melo's academics-related absence -- or the concern that his absence will be a long-term issue -- is the justification for dropping Syracuse to No. 4 in this week's poll, behind the 17-3 Ohio State Buckeyes. Or maybe the coaches just think Ohio State's better. Either way, the coaches' poll does this from time to time -- it prioritizes recent losses and wins more than a team's entire body of work. If you lose, you drop; if you win, you move up. (Unless, of course, you're Florida State.) But Ohio State has lost three times on the road and twice in conference play, which is twice as often as Syracuse has fallen. And is there no positive consideration for the loss of Melo? Does it factor in these formulations at all?
Once again, the AP agrees: It kept Cuse at No. 3 and OSU at No. 4. That seems far more reasonable to me.
Murray State at No. 9: Our weekly coaches' poll check-in on the Murray State Racers -- the last unbeaten team in college hoops -- finds Steve Prohm's team sitting just one spot higher than last week's ranking of No. 10. Perhaps, then, we're finally seeing Murray State's poll ceiling. For much of the past month, the Poll Thoughts has wondered aloud just how high this team could climb in the rankings if it remained unbeaten. Top 15 was a cinch. Top 10? No problem. But if coaches aren't willing to move a Baylor or a North Carolina or any of the other putative national title contenders below a team that just keeps beating up on the poor Ohio Valley, then perhaps Murray's continued climb through the weekly polls has officially plateaued.
Duke at No. 6. Wait ... Duke at No. 6?!? Either Duke lost to a good team at home Saturday, and Florida State deserves to be in the polls, or Duke isn't that good, a close win at Cameron Indoor isn't that impressive and FSU deserves to be ranked outside the Top 25. You can't have it both ways. Naturally, the coaches' poll does. The Blue Devils just lost to an unranked team on their home court. Their wins leading up to it -- a near-escape over Virginia, uninspiring road wins over Clemson and Georgia Tech and a home blowout of Wake Forest -- hardly spoke to this team's overwhelming excellence. Anyone who has followed this squad closely this season, and anyone who saw Saturday's loss to FSU, knows it was hardly a fluke: This team doesn't defend anywhere near as well as we've come to expect from Duke teams, and its offense, which has been very good, relies on perimeter play and can be slowed by good man-to-man defensive schemes. Like, oh, Florida State's. Sorry, but until this team's defense ranks better than No. 89 in adjusted defensive efficiency, it is not the sixth-best team in the country. Not even close.
Wait -- what was that we were saying about branding in college hoops? Oh, right.
Missouri at No. 2. Wait ... Missouri at No. 2?!?: Just kidding! That's entirely deserved. I'm all in on the Tigers. When you get called out in Kim English's postgame interview on your own site, you have no choice but to acquiesce. This team is for real.
Disagree? Did I miss something? As always, leave your own poll thoughts in the comments below.