Monday, January 31, 2011
Poll Thoughts: Illinois survives, somehow
By Eamonn Brennan
College hoops polls might be inconsequential noise, but that doesn't make them any less 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.)
You can forgive this week's poll voters for being a little flummoxed. After all, 23 of the 25 ranked teams played this weekend. Of those 23, 13 lost. Naturally, this is going to lead to some confusion. But Illinois in the top 25? Really, coaches?
Per the usual, some assorted poll thoughts are below.
Apparently, the coaches who vote in the ESPN/USA Today poll didn't see much of Illinois this past week. Allow me to provide a refresher. Last week, Illinois lost to Ohio State at home -- no shame in that -- but followed that loss with a dreadful 49-point performance in a loss to the lowly Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington. IU has been playing better, sure. And yeah, it's never easy to win on the Big Ten in the road. But the Illini have now lost four of their last five games. Two of those losses have come to unranked teams. The AP voters looked at that recent performance and excluded Illinois from the poll. The coaches, on the other hand, apparently didn't get the memo.
Imagine how high Utah State would be ranked if the Aggies won either of their big nonconference road tests? USU had chances to seriously boost its at-large profile in the pre-conference season, but lost both games (at BYU and at Georgetown). Still, the Aggies haven't lost since the Georgetown trip in early December; after their double-overtime win at Hawaii, this team has won 15 games in a row and seems unlikely to lose the rest of the way in WAC play. For their trouble, the coaches rewarded Utah State with a jump to the No. 21 overall ranking this week. Not too shabby, Aggies.
It's pretty clear the voters and the coaches share a healthy amount of confusion about who should be in those last few poll spots. To wit: The AP gave nods to West Virginia and North Carolina, teams that have lost to Marshall and Georgia Tech in the past two weeks. The coaches went with Illinois, as mentioned above, and Florida, who lost at Mississippi State on Saturday. Coaches apparently saw Florida's double-overtime win at Georgia, but forgot to check back in on the Gators later in the week. Or something like that.
Here's something a bit strange. Both polls' voters agreed that Texas is currently better than Pittsburgh, so both polls ranked the Longhorns (No. 3) over the Panthers (No. 4). I don't necessarily disagree with that. Even though Pitt did beat Texas back in November, UT is playing some of the best basketball in the country right now, and the Longhorns performed accordingly in wins over Oklahoma State and No. 13 Missouri this week. Here's the thing, though. If you think the Horns are better than Pitt -- and I think that's fair -- then shouldn't you also think the Horns are better than Kansas? Especially since, you know, Texas beat Kansas at home last week? If you think that was a fluke, you should probably rank the Longhorns behind Pittsburgh (and possibly even UConn). If you think that win was real (and both polls' voters seem to), then shouldn't Texas be seen as better than the team they thoroughly trounced on that team's own court? Pick one, voters. You can't have it both ways.
Finally, if you really want to see some disparate impressions at work, take a gander at each poll's "also receiving votes" category: The AP voters gave Xavier 92 votes; the coaches gave it 18. The AP voters gave Cincinnati 31 votes; the coaches poll gave it none. (Do coaches hate the Queen City?). The AP voters gave Florida State 43 votes; the coaches gave it seven. The AP voters gave St. Mary's six votes; the coaches' poll gave the Gaels 33. No one seems to have any idea what to do with the 10 or so teams hanging around at the fringes of the poll. Yet again, confusion reigns. But can you really blame either? It gets pretty ugly that far down in the top 25. How that will affect NCAA tournament seeding -- whether it will create a soft bubble, as it were -- will be interesting to watch as we inch closer to March.
As usual, to join the fun, leave thoughts in the comments, or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter. Wee!