Monday, December 13, 2010
Poll Thoughts: Nice work, coaches!
By Eamonn Brennan
College hoops polls might be inconsequential noise, but that doesn't mean they're not 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 voters stop being so dumb. (In other words, expect it until the season is over.)
Believe it or not, this week's ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll is, well, rather difficult to ridicule. In fact, it's downright reasonable. There are none of the usual issues you see in the coaches' poll. There are no big-name teams ranked higher than they belong. Teams with recent head-to-head wins against similarly ranked schools are usually ranked above their vanquished foes. It's hard to find any glaring omissions. All in all, the coaches did a pretty nice job with this one. Way to go, guys. If the logistics of the situation didn't make this impossible, I'd give you all one-armed bro-hugs right now.
Anyway, a few quick assorted (and mostly positive) thoughts on this week's poll:
Is UConn really the fourth-best team in the country? We'll have to find out in the Big East. The No. 4-ranked Huskies are basically out of the woods when it comes to their nonconference schedule. The Maui Invitational was the only time Jim Calhoun's team was ever going to meet top 10-type competition before 2011 comes around. Still, it's hard to argue against the Huskies moving this far up in the polls. UConn still has the prospective player of the year in Kemba Walker, it still has those marquee Maui wins to fall back on (even if Michigan State's and Kentucky's stocks have respectively fallen), and the Huskies have been rolling in the weeks since. If this is an early season fraud, the Big East will sort it out quickly. But for now, that No. 4 spot is undeniably legit.
Were you convinced Tennessee would be ranked lower than Pitt in this week's coaches poll? I kind of was. Turns out, the voters got it right: Tennessee comes in one spot above Pittsburgh after Saturday's incredibly impressive win in the Steel City. UT also leapt ahead of Villanova, which was still one spot above the Volunteers in last week's coaches poll despite that whole "losing to Tennessee on a neutral court" thing.
In fact, if you wanted to, you could make the argument that Tennessee deserves a top-five spot. No team in the top five, with the possible exception of Duke, owns two wins more impressive than Tennessee's marquee victories against Villanova (in Madison Square Garden) and Pittsburgh (at Pitt). And directly above the undefeated Vols are the 9-1 Kansas State Wildcats, who were blown out in what was essentially a home game against Duke at the CBE Classic, and who struggled this week in road wins against Washington State and Loyola-Chicago. I'm not sure you want to penalize a team too much for margin of victory (or lack thereof), but there's no question Tennessee has been the more impressive team thus far.
No. 12 Missouri jumped a spot over No. 13 Georgetown after the Hoyas' loss at Temple. I'm not sure that's entirely fair, because it's going to be hard for anyone to win at Temple this year, and Georgetown did beat Missouri in Kansas City, but oh well. It's not really worth quibbling over, either.
It's good to see San Diego State getting some top-10 love after its win at Cal. (SDSU is ranked No. 10 in this week's poll.) The Aztecs don't have the toughest schedule in the world, but they've proven themselves in several true road games thus far (including a win at Gonzaga, for whatever that's worth these days) and hey, the 10-0 Aztecs just keep winning. You can't ask for much more than that.
What do KenPom's adjusted efficiency rankings say about all this? According to the numbers, the coaches are drastically underrating Washington and Wisconsin, the No. 6 and No. 8 teams in adjusted efficiency. Same goes for Louisville, which comes in at No. 10 in Pomeroy's rankings and No. 21 on the coaches' poll. This cuts both ways: Notre Dame is ranked No. 23 in the coaches' and No. 40 by Pomeroy; Kansas State is ranked No. 6 in the coaches' but No. 24 in efficiency; UConn is ranked No. 4 in the coaches' and No. 29 by Pomeroy; and Missouri, the No. 12 team in the nation in the coaches' poll, is listed at No. 39 where tempo-free stats are concerned. Those are the outliers. More often than not, the numbers align with common perceptions. But for teams with wide disparities between rank and statistical output, the KenPom rankings are worth keeping an eye on.