Monday, January 3, 2011
Poll Thoughts: Baylor's reign of terror ends
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.)
How did the coaches do this week? Not bad! There are a few bones to pick here and there, but they're not the meatiest or juiciest. Instead, the only reasonable poll complaints revolve around the last five or six teams in the bracket, as well as a few potential snubs in also-receiving-votes no-man's land. But for the most part, this is a pretty solid effort by the coaches. High five, coaches.
Anyway, as always, some semi-cogent thoughts therein:
Bye bye, Baylor. After an utterly confusing inclusion in last week's coaches' poll, which followed losses to Gonzaga in Dallas and Washington State and Florida State in the Diamond Head Classic, Baylor didn't make the cut this week. Perhaps the coaches read last week's Baylor-bashing version of Poll Thoughts; more likely, they spent some time looking at Baylor's record and came to the only plausible conclusion available: That Baylor hadn't done anything to deserve membership in the top 25. Our long national nightmare is over. (For a time at least: Baylor was the top vote-getter among teams outside the poll this week, so the Bears could be back far before they actually deserve the distinction. We'll see.)
The Cincinnati Bearcats are your newest first-time member of the coaches' poll. Welcome, Bearcats! Cincinnati finally got into the poll on the strength of its impressive 14-0 start, but you could probably argue that any poll love for Cincinnati is a little bit premature. After all, Mick Cronin's team has yet to play a single projected NCAA tournament team to this point in the season, and the only time Cincy has left the state of Ohio was to play a dreadful Oklahoma team in Oklahoma City. It's one of the easiest nonconference schedules in the country. Lots of those 14 wins are cupcakes in their most sugary form. We'll see how Cincinnati's performance and ranking evolve as the Bearcats try to turn that nonconference success into a surprisingly impressive Big East season. Until then, I'll reserve my enthusiasm.
Speaking of undefeated teams, UCF rose all the way to No. 18 in this week's poll. I'm not sure the Knights are one of the 20 best teams in the country, but without all that much in the lower portions of the poll, it's hard to argue too vehemently against this one.
Among that much is Memphis, which somehow survived another week in the poll despite its total lack of quality wins to date. Even worse, Sunday saw the Tigers barely top Tennessee State in the FedEx Forum, the sort of game that ought to give Memphis fans (and poll supporters) pause. (See what I did there? Tigers? Pause? Er, sorry.) The only plausible reason Memphis is still in the polls is because poll voters, at least on the coaches' side of things, don't seem to punish teams for barely winning would-be blowouts at home, something Josh Pastner's team has done throughout the season. A win is a win, at least where the coaches' votes are concerned. You'd think Memphis would be hanging on by a thread, but with all those votes, that doesn't seem to be the case.
In general, the bottom portions of the coaches' poll are a little suspect, but nothing to get in a rage about. Does Wisconsin deserve to be in over Louisville? Maybe. Beating No. 13 Minnesota at home and losing on the road to Illinois is probably more respectable than getting blown out in the Yum! Center. But the Badgers did lose, so it's not mystifying. Same goes for Minnesota, which lost two games this week (including the aforementioned loss at Wisconsin), but managed to stay in the poll all the same. Does UNLV have a better résumé than Memphis or Louisville? Maybe. But UNLV also lost to Louisville. You see what I mean.
I do think the AP voters got the bottom portions of the poll right. I believe Washington is one of the best 25 teams in the country. The AP included the Huskies at No. 23; the coaches' poll left them on the sideline. But this is far from egregious stuff -- at some point, ranking teams Nos. 20-25 this season is a matter of subjectivity and personal preference -- and in general, the coaches did a pretty decent job here. (Washington is a lot better than its current non-ranking, though. That's just a fact.)