The Bearcats are trying to make a Top 10 appearance for the first time since Justin Jackson’s 2013–14 team. (Frank Victores | USA TODAY Sports)
As if the AP Poll itself wasn’t meaningless enough, there is actually a story behind the story. There’s a tiny number next to teams in the Top 25, but there are a ton of little things going on behind that number. Breaking the Poll is a series that breaks down the AP voters and dissects why the Bearcats are ranked where they are. (This series is made possible by College Poll Tracker.)
Welcome to February. Your Bearcats, who started the season unranked, are two wins away from a likely Top 10 appearance for the first time in three years. Their predictable run — which was seen as improbable by most outside of Cincinnati — wears on after two more wins last week. The Bearcats have emerged victorious in 14 consecutive contests, the longest active streak by a major conference team. In the Top 25, only Gonzaga and defending champion Villanova have more wins, and only the Zags have fewer losses. The resume is cementing itself.
As a result, the rise in the AP Poll continues. The Bearcats find themselves at #11 this week. UC has now been ranked for 10 weeks, stretching way back to December 5. Ever since the hiccup on the road against Butler, the rise has been steady. For fans of graphs, here’s what that looks like:
This week brings another milestone, as the Bearcats garner their first Top 5 vote since (most likely) 2013–14. If anyone has a way to see individual voters’ polls from that season, let me know. Given that UC was #7 for a few weeks, I think it’s fairly certain they got a Top 5 vote.
The Mick Cronin Rankings Tracker tells me that the Bearcats have now been in the Top 25 for 11 of 14 possible weeks. The Cronin Era record is 14 total weeks, so the Bearcats are on pace to surpass that. This appears to easily be Mick’s best team, so the perfectionist in me would like every possible metric to agree.
Around the AAC, the Bearcats finally have company. The SMU Mustangs sneak in at #25, just in time to make Sunday’s road contest with the Ponies a ranked matchup. That’s huge, even if only for perception. Football is over, and that’s a national TV Top 25 game, which means lots of eyeballs seeing how good Cincinnati is at basketball.
It’s in the best interest of the Bearcats for everyone in the Top 25 to continue to lose, not just the 10 teams ahead of us. Given that UC has relatively few opportunities to cement a sterling resume, it would be great if the rest of the Top 25 looked like a wash. The top 5–7 teams will always be fairly obvious. Cincinnati fans now need to root for chaos behind that line while the Bearcats sift to the top. Every year, a team with good-but-not-great resume gets a great seed because they had no bad losses and stacked up well against other teams on their level. I’d love if UC could be that team this year.
Something to watch this week is the NCAA March Madness Bracket Preview Show, which is new this year. On Saturday at 12:30PM on CBS, some people from the selection committee are going to be on TV telling us who the top 16 seeds are. Because the Bearcats are ranked #11 (which translates roughly to a 4-seed) there’s a pretty decent chance they can leave their mark on the first episode of this stupid idea if they can take care of UCF. The College Football Playoff ranking show is dumb enough, so I don’t know why basketball is copying them. Regardless, I want to see Cincinnati on it.
The Bearcats keep checking teams off their list, and the season is officially in its final 30 days. Just keep winning.
Biggest UC fan: Bob Holt (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) for giving the Bearcats a Top 5 vote, which is a pretty cool thing. Bob has been pretty high on the Bearcats for most of the year, but jumped on board following the Shootout when he moved UC from #16 to #9. Suddenly, he’s their biggest fan, seeing them as the best team not named Gonzaga, Villanova, Kansas, or Wisconsin (??).
Biggest UC hater: Krista Pirtle (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal) for inexplicably having the Bearcats at #19. I’ve been doing this series all season and I’ve genuinely never heard of Krista before. Now that I look back at her polls, I’m not surprised to see the Bearcats ranked poorly in each of them. Last week, she gave UC #16. Chaos ensued in the Top 25 while the Bearcats continued to win. Logically, that meant UC dropped three spots. Of course, this must be because of their strength of schedule, right? Some of these AP knuckleheads will vote any Power 5 team ahead of a 21–2 AAC bunch. WRONG. Pirtle has bane of my existence St. Mary’s at #11. The same St. Mary’s team that has the exact same record as the Bearcats, but without any good wins and with a blowout home loss to UTSA. I’m actually starting to feel bad for the Gaels, because they’re frequently the target of my rage, despite doing nothing wrong. Regardless, the AP voters attitude towards them compared to the Bearcats is maddening.