College Basketball

An Examination of the College Basketball Top 25 Poll

Every Monday afternoon from November to March, the Associated Press releases its newest edition of the college basketball top 25 poll. The poll is essentially a sum of rankings that come from 65 different voters, located across the country. A team will receive 25 points for a first place vote, 24 points for a second place vote, so on and so forth until a team receives one point for a twenty-fifth place vote.

This past week, one voter, Soren Petro, host of The Program on SportsRadio 810 WHB in Kansas City, received a lot of attention (example 1, example 2, example 3, example 4 …you get the picture) for ranking Kansas number one and the team who gave the Jayhawks their only loss, Michigan State, sixth. Now, I do disagree with Soren, my poll would have Michigan State ranked above Kansas, however, isn’t that the beauty of the poll? To find out what others think of particular teams? In addition, Petro provided his listeners (and hecklers) with some rationale as to why he ranked KU and Sparty in those specific spots. You can listen to that segment, from Monday, the 7th, right here.

In addition, many college basketball fans are familiar with Gary Parrish’s “Poll Attacks” column he releases each week. The CBS Senior College Basketball Columnist “attacked” Petro this past week, mentioning his poll. Parrish was also a guest on Petro’s show this past week, where the two talked about their strategy in developing their poll each week. You can listen to the interview here. While talking to Parrish, Petro further outlined his reasoning behind his poll, mentioning that coming into the year, he wasn’t as high on the Spartans as others were, “I had them (ranked) 18 before the season began. They lost Travis Trice, who I think was the heart and soul of that team. A team, that by the way, at one point, was 13-7 and on the outside looking in on everyone’s Bracketology list and then they also lost their leading rebounder. So, I wasn’t as big on them coming into this year.”

Petro goes on to compare Kansas to Michigan State, mentioning their game earlier this year in Chicago. “I also think Kansas, not only didn’t have Diallo — they also just flat-out didn’t play very well. I was ready to bump Kansas down to nine or ten because Diallo wasn’t back and Wayne Selden played like crap. One of the things about Kansas, about me having them number one (pre-season) was Wayne Selden, over in Korea, played like the guy he was supposed to be, he didn’t play like that guy against Michigan State. Subsequently, he did play like that guy again — and against good competition in Maui. So, I said ‘okay, he had a bad game, they had a bad game (against Michigan State). They missed a ton of shots in the lane, that I don’t think is going to happen consistently for this team, they get Diallo back, I expect him to be a defensive force — I’m going to go ahead and put (Kansas) back at number one.’ They were my number one team before the season.” Petro continues to say that if his perception is wrong, he will go ahead and knock Kansas from his number one spot. In addition, he includes that once Schilling is healthy for Michigan State, he will give them a bump, as he did with Diallo and Kansas.

Once his explanation was given, the Twitter storm continued, so Petro challenged those giving him a hard time to put together their own poll. Now, obviously these machos from Twitter aren’t required nor responsible for a poll each week like Petro is. However, his challenge was a fair one. If they are going to bash his opinion, why can’t they “release” their poll, so they are open to criticism as well? Now, I was not one that bashed Petro’s poll, I worked with him on his show for a short amount of time and (with bias) think he is one of the best in the business and extremely knowledgable when it comes to all sports, especially college basketball. And, since I consider myself a college basketball nerd, I decided to go ahead and put together a poll of my top 30 college basketball teams at this moment, to put myself in the pollster’s shoes and see what challenges do pop up. I came up with the following:

  1. Michigan State
  2. Kansas
  3. Iowa State
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Maryland
  6. North Carolina
  7. Kentucky
  8. Duke
  9. Xavier
  10. Purdue
  11. Virginia
  12. Providence
  13. Villanova
  14. Baylor
  15. Miami FL
  16. Louisville
  17. Butler
  18. West Virginia
  19. Arizona
  20. UCLA
  21. SMU
  22. UNLV
  23. Cincinnati
  24. Oregon
  25. George Washington
  26. Texas A&M
  27. Utah
  28. Vanderbilt
  29. UCONN
  30. Georgetown

Also considered: Florida, Northwestern, South Carolina, Texas, Vanderbilt, Wichita State

I came across a few roadblocks along the way, questions I had to ask myself…and, to be honest, most of the time, they didn’t really have the best of answers:

Providence and Louisville have a very similar résumé to Kansas, their only loss is to the top-ranked team in the country, why aren’t they ranked in the top three like Kansas is?

Other than Michigan State, Louisville has played no one. That part of the answer is easy. The Providence part of the equation? Not so much. The Friars have beat Arizona, who I have ranked in the top 20, which is obviously a good win, arguably better than any win Kansas has. Kansas gets the benefit here based on their talent and coach. I’ll take Bill Self and a team with future NBA players on it over just about any combo of coaches/teams in the country. The eye-test definitely plays a role here.

North Carolina beat Maryland two weeks ago…why is Maryland ranked ahead of Carolina?

Another tough one. Carolina has two losses, both on the road and neither of which is really a “bad loss.” One came to Northern Iowa, without (by far) their most valuable player. The other came on a buzzer-beater. However, a loss is still a loss. Maryland gets the very slight edge here.

North Carolina has two losses while a plethora of teams ranked behind them have one or none.

Fair point. Simple answer here — I’ll pick Carolina to win on a neutral floor against any of those teams.

As of Sunday, December 13th, Iowa State has the number one RPI and a perfect record, yet they’re ranked behind Kansas (RPI 40) and Michigan State (RPI 10).

Iowa State has looked really good, in spurts, this year. The first half against Iowa wasn’t as promising. They have two great chances to prove themselves before Christmas against Northern Iowa and on the road against Cincinnati — they’ll be rewarded if they win those games.

Arizona’s only loss is to Providence, a team that only has one loss…to the number one team in the country, why are they ranked so far down the list?

Well, let’s look at who the Wildcats have beat. Gonzaga, in Spokane. Looked like a really good win at the time, but, since then, the Zags struggled to beat a 2-5 Montana and then lost to UCLA. Other than that, Arizona’s best win is Boise State, who they have beat twice…but it’s still not overly impressive. UNLV on the 19th will be a good test.

Get the picture? You could go down the list of just about any pollster and find some “questionable” rankings. Three things I’d suggest to remember…

1. These roadblocks are impossible to avoid.

2. In the long run, these things tend to work themselves out and even if they don’t, they’re just rankings. Not much matters until March.

3. Think it’s so easy? Try putting together your own top 25.

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