- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
Last week included a pretty boring batch of poll returns, as expected: With a few exceptions (the Big Ten), conference play hadn't yet begun in full force, and many teams were spending the first days of January working in those tune-ups for the gauntlet ahead. Everything was in stasis.
This week is a bit more active. The start of conference play has brought the extinction of our remaining unbeaten teams: In the past seven days, Michigan, Duke, Arizona and Wyoming all have fallen, the former three doing so on the road in Big Ten/ACC/Pac-12 play. Naturally, that led us here at the ESPN.com college hoops desk to come together to present each team's respective top-rank case.
The poll voters answered that prompt with the obvious choice: Louisville.
For what it's worth, I tend to agree. If you're going by who you think the best team in the country actually is, and you want to factor in per-possession play and all the rest, you can make a case for Indiana (as I did in our little Sunday night feature), and you can argue that the Hoosiers are the best two-way team in hoops and that they still have the potential to get much better. But you can make that same tempo-free-plus-potential case for Louisville. And besides, the Cardinals are already awfully good.
If you merely compared résumés, like we do come Bubble Watch time, then you might think Indiana is a nonstarter. The Hoosiers' schedule is nowhere near as good as Louisville's. And Louisville's schedule is not as tough as the one belonging to Duke, which beat the Cardinals all the way back in November. Frankly, Duke has a good argument to retain its own spot -- it lost on the road (as opposed to a neutral court) and did so without one of its most important players, forward Ryan Kelly.
That's not really how the AP poll tends to work, though. Its voters tend to keep things a good deal simpler: If you and a bunch of one-loss teams could all potentially be No. 1, the spot will go to the team whose loss came earliest in the calendar. This is the one governing principles of the Associated Press poll. I'm not sure it makes a whole lot of sense, but humans tend to prioritize recentness. And hey, we're only human.
A few other quick thoughts on this week's poll:
Arizona dropped three spots and Minnesota one after their road conference losses, and I'm OK with that mostly because neither team was punished heavily for losing to good teams on the road in conference play. It happens.
Butler coach Brad Stevens doesn't pay attention to rankings, but I wonder if he is currently refreshing his browser, marveling at the fact his Bulldogs are ranked No. 13 on Jan. 14. They just keep slowly but surely climbing up those ranks; I can't imagine, as he developed his offseason plan for world domination, that even he could have seen that one coming.
NC State jumped six spots to No. 14 after its win over Duke, and deservedly so. The Wolfpack are still a bit defense-averse for my liking, but my hesitancy to rank them was probably a bit unfair, considering Notre Dame is cut from the same essential statistical cloth (great offense, sub-100 efficiency defense). The reason? I saw NC State a lot in November, and I came away thinking that the Wolfpack spent a lot of time on the court not all that engaged with what was happening in front of them. And there was the lingering notion (since proven correct) that last season's Sweet 16 run caused them to be vastly overranked to begin the season. But neither was the case Saturday. Great win, and a great court-storming.
Though Illinois dropped 11 spots this week, it managed to hang on to its spot in the Top 25. The Illini were manhandled by Minnesota and Wisconsin this week (the former in Champaign, Ill.), and forget the polls: The Illini need to start racking up a few Big Ten wins to avoid turning a fantastic early start into a months-long bubble drama.
UCLA is back in the poll, and I have no problem with this, either. It was easy to rip the Bruins two months ago. But with Shabazz Muhammad balling, the Wear twins playing well and eight straight wins under their belts, it is much harder to do so now.
We can discuss Pittsburgh's sudden and strange propensity for losing at the Pete, but before we do, we should talk about the really nice win Marquette managed to pull off there Saturday. The Golden Eagles have been a bit of a project for Buzz Williams, but right now they're sitting at 3-0 in Big East play with wins over UConn, Georgetown and at Pittsburgh. Not too shabby.
And this is kind of a remarkable stat, but for the first time since 1984-85 VCU is a member of the Top 25 poll. How about those Rams?