Monday, January 24, 2011
Poll Thoughts: Numerical confusion reigns
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 (and, occasionally, the Associated Press) voters stop being so dumb. (In other words, expect it until the season is over.)
Another topsy-turvy, thrilling week of college hoops means another topsy-turvy, confusing Monday in the wild and wacky reality inhabited by the college hoops polls. As always, there are eye-catching tidbits in both lists for better and for worse. Some assorted thoughts therein:
The reaction to Texas's convincing and surprising win at Kansas Saturday has been a little bit, well, surprising. How so? The Jayhawks (No. 6/No. 6) retained a higher ranking than Texas (No. 7/No. 8) in both the AP and coaches polls this week. You can understand the hesitation in dropping KU too far. After all, the Jayhawks have only one loss, a loss that came to a very good team. But that loss also came at home, where Kansas never loses, and it came to a team that just Tuesday beat the tar out of a very good Texas A&M team. For all intents and purposes, though, Texas didn't really move much this week. Should the Longhorns be ranked higher than Connecticut? Well, probably not. UConn did win in Austin, after all. But it's hard to argue that Kansas' résumé -- which lacks a true quality win -- is better than Texas' (or, for that matter, Villanova's) at this point in the season.
Sometimes it seems poll voters care more about sheer win-loss totals than what those wins and losses actually are. The Kansas-Texas-Villanova dynamic detailed in the previous bullet-point is one such example. Another is Duke's bump to the No. 3 spot in the wake of KU's loss. Duke is still Duke, and duh, the 18-1 Blue Devils should be a top-five team. But at this point, isn't Connecticut's résumé a bit more impressive? The Huskies now own neutral-court wins over Wichita State, Michigan State and Kentucky, a road win over Texas, and home wins over Villanova -- the same team that just won at Syracuse, for those of who you dig the transitive property -- and Tennessee. UConn's only losses (at Pitt, at Notre Dame) are the definition of "good" losses. Meanwhile, Duke's "best" win is either its neutral-court win over Kansas State (which is currently 1-4 in Big 12 play and fell all the way out of the rankings this week) or its home win over Michigan State. Hasn't Connecticut done more than Duke at this point? I'd argue it has. But because the Huskies have two losses, and Duke has one (and, yes, maybe also because it's Duke), the Blue Devils get the nod at No. 3 while UConn sits at No. 5 in both polls. (And yes, you could probably argue the same thing about Villanova. Oh well.)
Like Jay Cutler, Washington is suffering from an ongoing public relations problem that doesn't jibe with reality. (Cutler isn't a quitter, guys. Let's stop the insanity.) By Ken Pomeroy's statistically inclined lights, the Huskies are one of the five or six best teams in the country and have been for some time. Isaiah Thomas and company just finished routs of fellow Pac-10 contender Arizona and then Arizona State. The Huskies have no bad losses, and they retain the look of a national title contender. But because they have four losses, Washington is still ranked No. 17 in the nation in both the AP and coaches. Perhaps the greatest sign of confusion? Minnesota, which also has four losses but hasn't looked nearly as good as Washington at any point this season, is ranked above the Huskies by AP voters this week. That's just ... incorrect.
Utah State sneaked into the coaches poll at No. 25. I don't have a huge problem with this, but I figured I'd let you know. Welcome, Aggies!
Michigan State somehow hung around in the AP poll; media voters just can't quit Tom Izzo's disappointing Spartans. The coaches were a bit more sober-minded -- read: accurate -- in their collective decision to include USU and leave MSU atop the list of those also receiving votes.
Louisville stayed in both polls, too. Apparently, neither the media nor and coaches are particularly worried about a loss at Providence, even if I'd be a little concerned, myself.
Likewise, the polls differed on Saint Mary's, who was No. 24 in the coaches' but fell out of the writers' poll after a loss at Vanderbilt. I'm not sure why AP voters would punish Saint Mary's for a quality road loss to now-ranked Vandy (especially when viewed alongside the deference the AP types gave Louisville after a bad road loss), but they did.
Perhaps the greatest disagreement came in the case of Florida State. The Seminoles are No. 22 in the Associated Press poll, but are unranked in the coaches' poll, where they finished behind Michigan State (53) and Arizona (52) in overall votes (47). The disagreement is understandable; I'm torn as well. Yes, Florida State is the only team to topple Duke this season, and that's certainly worth something. So is FSU's current four-game winning streak. But I'm not sure a home win over Duke outweighs a road loss to -- of all teams -- Auburn, which the Seminoles somehow managed to accomplish Jan. 3. A three-point, neutral-court loss to Butler is questionable, as is a 71-59 loss at Virginia Tech. The Bulldogs and Hokies didn't sniff the polls this week; is FSU really all that much better than either? And if not, should Florida State really be ranked over West Virginia, Saint Mary's, Cincinnati, Arizona and a handful of others? I'm not so sure.
People are still voting for Baylor! Seriously! This happened! The Bears got two votes in the AP poll and one in the coaches. This is borderline inconceivable. At this point, Baylor is barely a bubble team. Until the Bears do something worth noting, everyone needs to agree to just stop voting for them. Hear that, voters? Stop. Just stop. Deal? Deal. (And Mr. Parrish, the floor is yours.)
Did I forget some poll goodness worth hashing out? Think Baylor ought to be ranked? (Ha. Just kidding. Of course you don't.) You know the drill: leave your thoughts in the comments.