Monday, December 19, 2011
Poll Thoughts: Welcome back, Harvard
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.
Week 7 of the college basketball calendar came and went with minimal fuss. Given the wide array of players that had to focus less on basketball and more on their final first semester exams this week, that dynamic is hardly surprising. Players take finals, too, so the basketball was sporadic. Even with a healthy spate of weekend games, the movement within the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll was as minimal as it's been all season. But, hey, we're here, it's Monday, the poll is out, we're all bored at work we might as well take a quick glance anyway:
How little did things change at the top of the poll? Check out the "previously ranked" column. For teams ranked No. 1 through No. 15, it is almost identical. The only exception? Xavier. The Musketeers were previously ranked No. 9, but after suffering an ugly, shorthanded home loss to Oral Roberts Sunday playing without Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons or Dez Wells, all of whom were serving suspensions for their roles in the Cincinnati-Xavier brawl last Saturday -- Chris Mack's team dropped six spots to No. 15. Every team from No. 9 to No. 15 Connecticut, Marquette, Kansas, Florida, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, the usual suspects simply moved up a spot to make room for Xavier just below. Easy enough, I suppose.
Was Xavier's drop fair? I think so. On one hand, you don't want to punish a team for losing when it isn't full strength, because that's hardly an accurate gauge of a team's ability, especially when you can contrast it with a sterling record to date. On the other hand, it's not like Xavier suffered its personnel losses thanks to injury. And yeah, Oral Roberts is pretty, but frankly, Xavier should be deep enough and talented enough to not score a mere 42 points in a home blowout to a team like the Golden Eagles. Xavier didn't deserve to take a huge drop, but it's hard to argue they deserved to stay in the top 10, especially given that the personnel absences that caused the loss were entirely self-inflicted. So, yeah, this is probably fair.
We had a few new inclusions in this week's poll, which is always fun. Among the new faces is Murray State, which improved to 12-0 and kicked off some enjoyable "Could they go undefeated?" murmurs after a win at Memphis last week. UNLV jumped back at No. 23 in after a strong win over previously unbeaten Illinois in Chicago Saturday. (The Illini, for what it's worth, lost a little ground in the poll but managed to hang around, ranking No. 24 after the loss.) And hey, check it out! There's Harvard! The Crimson were unjustly robbed of their oh-so-rare poll spot last week, when voters apparently decided that losing at Connecticut -- as if most teams in the country wouldn't -- was reason to move Tommy Amaker's team out of the poll. That made zero sense, especially given the teams (Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, blech) that were included in the coaches' poll in their place. In other words, it's good to see Harvard back, if only by default. Whatever the reasons, the spot is deserved.
It's becoming apparent that the coaches just have absolutely no idea what to do with Vanderbilt. Last week, the 6-3 Commodores made it to No. 25 in the poll, apparently a product of the return of Festus Ezeli in an 87-83 win at Davidson. But Vanderbilt lost again Saturday, this time at home to Indiana State, 61-55. The Sycamores are good, but still, Vanderbilt is 6-4 and has yet to prove it can finish games in the closing stretches. Actually, this Vanderbilt team has yet to prove much of anything. But somehow, for some reason, the Commodores are still getting votes, three of them this week. Why? Reputation, maybe? Your guess is as good as mine.
That seems to be the explanation for Memphis's seven votes, too, which are confusing given the Tigers merely added a loss to their record at Louisville Saturday. Sure, Josh Pastner's team looked improved in that game. But given that poll voters are usually so loss-conscious -- the undefeated Cardinals are still ranked No. 4, after all, mostly because they haven't lost yet this season -- you'd think people would be jumping off the Memphis bandwagon much more quickly.
The third team to drop out of the polls this week (other than A&M and Vandy) was Alabama, which is starting to look plenty overrated given its long run in the top 25 beginning with November's first preseason poll. The Crimson Tide have lost three of their last four, including a one-point home loss to Georgetown, a 12-point loss at Dayton and Saturday's drubbing at the hands of a surprising Kansas State team in Kansas City. This perception-based slip may have been a week or so too late. Either way, the Crimson Tide who were, like Vanderbilt, dubbed as potential SEC contenders by the coaches this offseason have a lot of work to do.
And oh yeah: Don't look now, but St. Joe's got three votes after last week's win over Creighton. This should be mentioned if only to please ESPN.com resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi. Joey Brackets, this shout-out's for you.