Monday, January 30, 2012
Poll Thoughts: Missouri hangs tough
By Eamonn Brennan
College hoops polls might be inconsequential noise, but that doesn't make the arguments any less fun. In that spirit, I present the creatively named Poll Thoughts, which you can expect every Monday until the season is over.
I'll be honest: When I first saw this week's ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll -- we're now at Week 13, by the way; this season is just flying by -- the first thought that came to mind was "Wait a second -- where's Saint Mary's?!" Then I scrolled up a bit, saw Saint Mary's at No. 16, and realized I had missed the Gaels on my first pass through the poll. And then I called the nearest eye doctor, because apparently I need bifocals.
After a routine eye exam, I looked at the poll again. I mulled. I contemplated. I deliberated. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that this week was simply one of those weeks in which I don't have any major disagreements with the coaches' poll. It's a weird feeling, and it doesn't come around often, but it's out in full force today. All things considered, the poll looks pretty good. We can split hairs here and there, but there's nothing worth too much outrage.
Here, then, are a few scattered thoughts on an otherwise nondescript week at the ballot box:
Finally, Florida State gets that love. The Seminoles deserved to be among the nation's top 25 last week. That they weren't was a legitimate beef; in the matter of three games, the Seminoles had pasted North Carolina by 33 points, easily handled Maryland at home and upset Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke was still ranked No. 6 in the country after the home loss, which meant the pollsters clearly thought highly of the Blue Devils. But didn't FSU just beat Duke in Durham? If Duke is so good, and FSU just beat it at home two games after dominating North Carolina, why weren't the Seminoles among the best 25 teams in the country?
This week, they are. Our long national nightmare is over.
Connecticut drops out. This is another thing that probably should have happened a week ago, after back-to-back losses (at home to Cincinnati, on the road at Tennessee). But the Huskies hung tough thanks in some part, it seemed, to programmatic branding: Everyone expected this team to be really good. When it wasn't, it ran counter to long-held perception, and the coaches' poll voters were maybe just a little slow to react. But after this week's two-point home loss to Notre Dame, the voters were practically forced to come around. At least, that's how it feels.
Harvard remains. The Crimson were No. 23 in last week's poll, and they're No. 23 in this week's configuration. Although that almost seems a little generous, given some of the squads also receiving votes -- Gonzaga, Vanderbilt, Wichita State, West Virginia -- it's hard to begrudge the 18-2 Crimson and their six-game winning streak a spot in the national conversation.
Murray State watch! (Like Panda Watch!, but with less panda.) Yes, the Racers are still undefeated, now 21-0 and creeping ever closer to accomplishing one of the more remarkable feats in recent college hoops history -- the undefeated regular season. But Murray State, which rose and rose and rose over the past four weeks of poll action, has appeared to plateau in the eyes of voters. All things considered, this is probably fair. No, you can't hate on Murray State for beating the teams on its schedule; that's all it can do, after all. But the Ohio Valley Conference is really, really bad, and it requires a major leap of imagination to think that No. 9 Murray State would beat the likes of Michigan State (at No. 10 this week) on a neutral floor. That probably goes for the rest of the top 10, and more than a few of the teams below it. It would appear the Racers -- whose poll rise has been one of the fascinating (at least to me, I suppose) subplots of Poll Thoughts all season -- have finally reached their poll peak.
Missouri doesn't drop much. Last week, after its huge road win at Baylor, Missouri climbed to No. 2 in the coaches' poll. This was fair. This week, Missouri lost at Oklahoma State. It fell to No. 4. This is also fair. More than anything, it's an acknowledgment of the Tigers' season to date and, I'd wager, an endorsement of their performance as it relates to the future. If poll voters thought Mizzou was ready to fade or was outperforming its own talent, they might have been more eager to drop the Tigers a few extra spots within the top 10. Instead, voters seemed to recognize that Missouri is indeed legit, that good teams lose conference games on the road from time to time, and hey, no big deal, right? At this point, Frank Haith's team deserves the benefit of the doubt. The Tigers seem to be getting it.
Poll thoughts of your own? You know what to do. Commence debate in the comment section ... now.