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Monday, December 10, 2012
Poll Thoughts: Stasis wins the day

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. 

In so far as the Monday afternoon reveal of the Associated Press Top 25 poll can be suspenseful, the past two weeks have done their best to deliver. Two weeks ago, UCLA was unceremoniously dropped from its No. 11 ranking after a home loss to Cal Poly. Last Monday, once-No. 9 Kentucky was sent packing after a home loss to Baylor. Both were among the highest-ranked teams of all time to drop entirely out of the AP Top 25.

The poll's determinative value at this stage of the season is minimal, but what it is occasionally good for is narrative. UCLA and Kentucky, two of the youngest and most talented and to date most tantalizing/frustrating teams in the country, did not have a good November. The polls told the story.

If there is a story to this week's otherwise staid ledger -- as the AP story dryly notes, the "only changes in Monday's poll is the order, not who's ranked" -- it is the ascendance of the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Illinois is not new to the polls. Last week they were ranked No. 13. The week before that, No. 21. That climb has been slow and steady because Illinois blitzed the Maui Invitational field, including a Butler team that beat Marquette and trounced North Carolina, and the Illini avoided would-be buzzkillers such as Gardner-Webb and Georgia Tech at home. (Even Western Carolina gave U of I a run last Tuesday.) But that climb did not, at least to me, confer legitimacy. It was obligatory, a tip of the cap to a surprisingly positive start. Illinois got hot in Maui and then won games at home, and then jumped in the polls when other teams lost. Were they really one of the best 15 teams in the country?

After Saturday's win at Gonzaga, it is hard to argue otherwise. The Illini may not be defending at an elite level, but they are scoring that way, primarily because they shoot a ton of 3s (their 3-pointers to field goals ratio is ninth-highest in the country) and, you know, make them (Illinois is 40.9 percent from 3, ranked No. 10 nationally). Funny enough, this was a reason for skepticism, and may continue to be an ongoing bugaboo. Pundits will say things like "when you live by the 3 ..." before ominously trailing off. And that may be right. But right now Illinois is living, it's impossible to argue otherwise, and the polls reflect as much. Good job, polls.

A couple of other quick thoughts: