Monday, February 18, 2013
Poll Thoughts: Settling in (for now)
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.
Have the polls finally calmed down?
It certainly looks that way, particularly at the top. For the first time in months, since Duke was rounding the tail end of its nonconference schedule in late December, we've got a No. 1 team that has managed to maintain its grip on the spot for longer than a few days, or a solitary week. Indiana plays at Michigan State Tuesday — possibly without Victor Oladipo — so we'll revise accordingly. But you get the point: Despite its best attempts at Illinois, IU didn't relinquish its top spot after one week like so many other No. 1s had done this season. The Hoosiers kept it. I suppose that's something.
More interesting to me, though, is where we currently are with the top 10. Disagree on individual placement all you like -- as I wrote last week, at this point you can choose your own poll adventure, free from the conventions of the enterprise -- but would anyone disagree that those are essentially the best 10 teams in the country?
For most of the season you've heard that this year includes no "great" teams (a tricky proposition to quantify but probably true); it's likewise been said the sport has between eight and 10 very good squads, any of which could win the 2013 national title.
That much is true. Those teams: Indiana, Miami, Gonzaga, Michigan State, Florida, Duke, Michigan, Syracuse, Kansas, Louisville. In the middle of February, after dozens of upsets and week after week of poll churn, we seem to have this thing mostly figured out. For now, anyway.
Some quick thoughts on the non-top-10 portions of the poll:
Arizona is probably ranked a little too high. I realize saying this might cause a rush of Arizona fans to scream at me in LOUD CAPS LOCK NOISES, but when that happened earlier in the year it was justifiable -- we disagreed about what a couple of last-second wins said about the Wildcats at that particular point in time. Lately, Arizona's losses have not been of the last-second variety. On Feb. 10 the Wildcats fell at home to Cal, 77-69, and followed that up with Thursday's 71-58 loss at Colorado. On Sunday, at a vastly improved but still not very good Utah, Arizona barely held on for a 68-64 win. The Wildcats' offense is the best in the Pac-12, but they're playing just the fifth-best per-possession defense to date. Where some might see a national title contender I see a team still putting it all together, one that may get there before March but isn't quite there yet. Your mileage may vary.
It may be time to take Wisconsin a bit more seriously. I know, I know: The Badgers exclusively play close games, which makes it difficult to be impressed; they play Iowa at home roughly the same way they play Minnesota on the road. But they are winning (most of) those games and doing so while playing the best defense in the Big Ten and the third-best in the country on a per-possession basis.
Butler is overrated right now, and I don't think it's particularly controversial to say so. The win at Fordham was far too close for comfort, the home loss to Charlotte wasn't that close at all and, as Butler's offense has cooled off, it hasn't improved proportionately on the defensive end.
Other than that? Honestly? There's not much else to dislike. Of course, you may disagree. Let's hear it in the comments.