Monday, December 5, 2011
Poll Thoughts: Duke, UNC hold steady
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.
Andy had a fair point in his 3-point shot this morning: "I know. I know. UNC didn’t beat Kentucky. But can you honestly watch that game and not see one of the top three teams in the country? Syracuse is the current No. 3 and will stay that way when the polls are released Monday afternoon. I don’t have an issue with the Orange being No. 3, but after watching both teams in person and on television, North Carolina has more talent and has played a tougher schedule." It's hard to disagree, but poll voters, whether from the ranks of coaches or the Associated Press, don't think this way. First and foremost, they look at record, and when an undefeated team like Syracuse remains undefeated -- and against a good Florida team to boot -- that team is always going to rank higher than a team that lost but looked like one of the best three teams in the country in that loss. Really, UNC (and for that matter, Duke) can't complain much about their poll movements this week. Neither team dropped more than one spot in the poll after respective losses at Kentucky and at Ohio State. Is UNC probably a better team than Duke? Yes. But the Tar Heels have two losses, Duke has one, and such is the way the polls work. Oh well.
For another example of this, see Louisville's No. 4 ranking, which it earned after a home OT win over a shaky Vanderbilt team that dropped out of the Top 25 this week. Even the most ardent Cardinals fan would have to admit that his or her team -- which is still not at full strength thanks to injuries -- is probably not better than UNC or Duke. (It may well get there by the end of the year, though. There are lots of reasons to be bullish on this team, but perhaps none more so than how well Rick Pitino's team has weathered injuries and gotten key wins anyway. And you have to like the "greater than the sum of its parts" feel you're getting here: If Louisville replicates that aspect of last season's success but with this season's much more talented lineup, look out.) Anyway, the Cardinals were ranked No. 6, they didn't lose, and so there you go. Again: Oh well.
Many teams from outside the power-six conferences would be thrilled with a No. 8 ranking. I'm not sure Xavier should be. The Musketeers are undefeated and got the same marquee win as Louisville -- over Vanderbilt in OT -- but did so in a far less conducive environment at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville. They followed that up with a remarkable comeback win over Purdue on Saturday. Xavier hasn't looked impressive for large stretches of these games, of course, but we all know the coaches poll voters don't actually watch the games. (OK, they probably do. Some of them, anyway. Maybe?)
The biggest faller of the week was Wisconsin, which fell from No. 7 to No. 16 in the coaches' poll after losses at UNC and at home to Marquette. That seems about right. The Badgers hardly deserve to drop further, and they gave UNC everything the Tar Heels could handle in the duo's Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup. The home loss to Marquette was distinctly out of character, but was as much a function of Marquette's late strength as Wisconsin's unusually brutal shooting day.
No team that fell out of the polls has much of an argument to stay. Those teams? Vanderbilt (Festus [for the rest of us] Ezeli or no Festus [for the rest of us] Ezeli, the apparent inability to finish close games still haunts this team), UNLV, Cal and Saint Louis. The Rebels and Billikens might feel a little aggrieved, seeing as UNLV lost to a good Wichita State team in that team's brutal building and SLU's only loss (to LMU) came at the end of a very successful West Coast road trip.
The real question at the bottom of the poll -- and the reason those since-dispatched teams might have a beef -- is Texas A&M. The Aggies come in at No. 25 this week and, well, yeah: That's entirely mystifying. Since last week's poll, when A&M wasn't ranked, the Aggies beat Alcorn State and Stephen F. Austin. Great! Good for them. The Aggies' only other win of note came in a one-point victory of what is clearly still a developing St. John's team; the only Top-25 outfit A&M has played, Mississippi State, handled the Aggies easily in New York. Meanwhile, UNLV beat North Carolina. Cal lost by a point at San Diego State. San Diego State beat Cal. Michigan State beat Florida State in the Challenge. Indiana won on the road at NC State. A&M may well be a top-25 team, particularly when forward Khris Middleton gets healthy and back in the swing of things. But right now we've seen nothing to indicate the Ags are better than any of the teams that received votes but were left out in favor of A&M. Strange.
Other than the Aggies, there are three new additions to the poll this week, and all of them are deserving. Harvard is 8-0 and looking very impressive in advance of a clash with UConn this week. Illinois is 8-0 and coming off a win at Maryland and a home over Gonzaga. Georgetown, meanwhile, comes in at No. 21, and I have absolutely no problem with that. The Hoyas were impressive in Maui and followed that up with a big-time nonconference road win over No. 15 Alabama last week. The only qualms here: Why shouldn't Georgetown be ranked higher than Memphis? The Hoyas beat Memphis in Maui, after all, and the Tigers have two losses to the Hoyas' one. And what about Illinois-Gonzaga? It's always funny to see one team (Illinois, No. 23) come in a spot behind a team it just beat handily (Gonzaga, No. 22) a few days before poll ballots are due. The Memphis thing remains baffling. With the possible exception of A&M, perhaps no team is the recipient of more strange coaches' poll love than the Tigers. Apparently those blowout wins over Jackson State and Austin Peay really impressed the voters this week. Who knows? Actually, I think "Who knows?" should be the official motto of "Poll Thoughts." That, or "Oh well."