Every Monday, while dissonantly discussing the Associated Press poll, I always try to remind you of one overriding fact: The polls do not matter. They are fun to argue about, for sure, and we do our fair share of that, but always with the unspoken understanding (I hope) that it doesn't actually matter who gets ranked No. 1 or No. 10 or No. 25 on Jan. 21. It's a snapshot, an easy-to-digest look of a small portion of the college basketball landscape. Why some fans, even the smallest and most vocal subsets, get so worked up about the AP and coaches' polls is something I will never truly understand. But fans are, after all, fans. That's just how they roll.
Coaches, on the other hand, should probably know better. A couple of the Mountain West's finest took to the pages of the Albuquerque Journal — which is preferable to writing angry Twitter replies — to let their feelings be known; they are not pleased one bit with the way the Mountain West has been treated by the AP voters. Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy actually went all the way in on the Missouri Valley, vis a vis Creighton and Wichita State.
“In this polling,” Eustachy said, “and this has nothing to do with us, but in this polling, maybe you can explain this to me … How do you explain Wichita State’s amount of points in the media polling, and the coaches polling? And Creighton’s?”
“Do teams all of a sudden, once they’re in, they’re in?” Eustachy asked. “And everybody just kind of punches their ticket … or does what a team does week to week mean anything?”
New Mexico coach Steve Alford? He has likewise seen the latest Associated Press poll, and despite the fact that his team was ranked, he is downright ticked about the rest of it. From the Albuquerque Journal:
“I’m amazed with the rankings,” Alford said. “Just looking at the rankings and we only have one team ranked. To be the third best league in the country (based on the latest RPI rankings) and only have one ranked team is bothersome, it really is.”
“Unfortunately when we do what other leagues are doing -- beat up on each other -- we seem to be penalized more,” Alford said, adding he thinks there are four teams in the MWC that are deserved of being ranked.
It would be easy to give Alford the whole "dude, who cares about the rankings" spiel, and that was my first impulse. But you can understand where this comes from. The Mountain West is having a great, great season on the hardwood. It is as deep as it has ever been; if the tournament started tomorrow, six of its nine teams would receive at-large NCAA tournament bids. That's kind of crazy. Being the Mountain West -- a non-power six league, one that has often flown under the radar in the past decade (if not in the past five years) -- there is no doubt some shared subconscious anxiety about whether the league is actually going to get its proper due. I don't think that's been the case, because we love the MWC, but Alford wants to make sure everyone knows exactly how good this league is. Understandably so.
Unfortunately, Alford has elected the rankings as his preferred (only?) communications strategy, and the RPI as his proof. As John Gasaway tweeted Tuesday: "IU hangs its head in shame, as one of its graduates equates 'RPI' with 'reality' in 2013." Let that be a lesson to everyone: If you want to argue your favorite team's merits with smart people, and you don't want their eyes to glaze over after 15 seconds, leave the RPI out of it. Protip.
Anyway, here's some reality for the MWC: By any metric, it's really good. Per Ken Pomeroy's efficiency-based rankings, the MWC is the fourth-best league in the land, and on a pound-for-pound basis I'd argue it's better than every league but the Big Ten and the Big East. It has five teams ranked in the KenPom top 50, six in the top 60, and no team ranked below 158. Again, if the tournament were held tomorrow, six MWC teams would be in.
So don't worry, Mountain friends. We see you. The MWC will receive its fair share of love in the next three months, and a healthy heaping of NCAA tournament bids, too. In the meantime, do me a favor: ignore the polls. Cool?