Monday, December 3, 2012
Poll Thoughts: The Lexington plummet
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.
Last week, we spent a few words lamenting the UCLA Bruins, whose mediocre start, punctuated by a dramatic come-from-ahead home loss to Cal Poly, caused them to rightly free-fall out of the Associated Press Top 25. (The coaches kept them in, of course, because coaches' poll voters don't actually keep up with this whole basketball thing. Ugh.)
Anyway, the key takeaway was this: The then-11th-ranked Bruins' departure from the Top 25 made them the second-highest ranked team since the advent of the modern (25-team) AP poll in 1990 to fall all the way out of the rankings. The only team ranked higher? No. 9 Missouri in January 2011.
A week later, we have a new recordholder.
Largest Drop to Unranked Since AP Poll Went to 25 Teams in 1990
Jan. 10, 2011
Dec. 29, 1994
Last week, Kentucky was ranked No. 8 in the polls. This week, the Wildcats are unranked. That makes them, according to ESPN Stats & Info's Jeremy Lundblad, the highest-ranked team ever to fall out of the poll in just one week's time. The new leaderboard looks like this (see chart at right).
How did this happen? Well, Kentucky went to South Bend on Thursday -- a game I had the good fortune of attending -- and was unsurprisingly snuffed out by a much smarter, savvier, veteran Notre Dame team playing in a rowdy gym, riding a wave of infectious campus enthusiasm. That loss was one thing; it shouldn't have been shocking to see a team this young take its lumps in its first true road game.
Saturday was a different matter entirely. Kentucky lost at home to unranked Baylor -- a Baylor team that had previously lost to Charleston, a Baylor team that is young in its own right, a Baylor team that didn't even play all that well in Rupp Arena but still won. Kentucky really did play that poorly. The Wildcats' offense is a bit of a mess -- the team needs a true point guard, Nerlens Noel doesn't have a low-post game, Alex Poythress is hot and cold, Kyle Wiltjer went 1-for-11, and even Archie Goodwin, by my lights the best player on the team, is far too prone to just put his head down and drive to the basket and hope he gets fouled. Forget comparisons to last year's incredible team. This group is, at least right now, the worst team Calipari has coached at Kentucky, and probably his worst team since the 2005 Memphis Tigers, who went 22-16.
That doesn't mean the Cats will stay that way, of course. I doubt it. But for now, in a world that has in some ways been dominated by Kentucky basketball for the past three seasons, and almost exclusively dominated by it the past 12 months, all of a sudden Kentucky basketball is losing games at home, falling out of the polls, and just generally having a bad week.
Kentucky basketball? Bad week? Error, error, does not compute.
Other poll thoughts:
I have no problem with the polls keeping Indiana at No. 1 and Duke at No. 2. If we were choosing No. 1 seeds at the end of November, though, I would give Duke the No. 1 overall seed. Why? The Blue Devils' résumé is better. You really can't say enough about the November schedule they've plowed through. I wonder if any team has ever played so tough a month of early-season basketball, let alone survived unbeaten. Indiana has some nice wins but can't match Duke's victories. But guess what? I don't care. Rankings aren't always inherently about résumés. They're about which team you think is better. Wins and losses -- particularly head to head -- are a big help in pointing us in that direction, but by the fifth week of the season if who-beat-whom is the only barometer for how you're gauging teams, you're doing it wrong. I think Indiana is better. Until something causes that opinion to change, I'll stick with the Hoosiers at the top of the poll.
Ohio State fell three spots, from No. 4 to No. 7, in this week's poll. The Buckeyes' only loss came at Duke, 73-68. If you considered the Buckeyes a top-five team before they nearly beat Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, I'm not sure why you would change your opinion after that loss.
Cincinnati jumped six spots in the poll, to No. 11, and I don't really have a problem with that -- I really like Cincinnati. But it is worth remembering just how fragile these rankings can be, seeing as Alabama remains unranked and Cincy needed a ridiculously awesome step-back buzzer-beater to shake the Crimson Tide at home.
Here's another head-scratcher: NC State dropped seven spots in the poll, to No. 25, after losing at Michigan 79-72. Last week, after a 20-point neutral-court loss to Oklahoma State and a two-point home win over UNC-Asheville, NC State was the No. 18 team in the country. But after losing in Ann Arbor to a very good Michigan team (one the AP poll itself believes is the third-best in the country), the Wolfpack are suddenly teetering on the brink of poll oblivion. I just ... I don't know.
It should be noted Kentucky wasn't far off the Top 25. The Wildcats were the poll's leading also-receiving-votes-getter, followed by Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Oregon, Alabama, Connecticut, Baylor, Colorado and so on. Among those teams, Pittsburgh is the most criminally underrated. If the Panthers had beaten Michigan, as opposed to fallen by four on a neutral floor (hardly cause for shame), this wouldn't be an issue.
Likewise, it is nice to see voters pay so much attention to what Virginia Tech has done in the first few weeks of its season. An impressive home win over Iowa is a nice little way to prove you're not going to be abysmal, but it didn't tell us much beyond that on Tuesday. But Saturday's win over Oklahoma State showed James Johnson's team -- led by All-American candidate Erick Green -- plans to do much more than merely tread water.