SMU fans storm the court following their upset of #7 Cincinnati in 2014. (Jim Cowsert | 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.)
We saw this coming. The Bearcats sauntered past UCF last Wednesday, moving to 22–2 on the season, extending the win streak to 15 games. When the NCAA March Madness Bracket Preview Show aired on Saturday afternoon, the #11 Bearcats were not listed by the committee as a Top 16 team. It doesn’t mean that much in February, but it did feel a bit like the national media collectively had its breath held, waiting for the Bearcats to slip up so they could twist the knife.
On Sunday afternoon, it happened. The Bearcats went to Dallas and laid an egg against a really good team. It (should) be an isolated disaster, but I knew there were AP voters watching the game with bated breath, excited to have their Ah-HAH! Told you so! moment.
We got it over with, and the AP Poll is here. The Bearcats have plummeted from #11 to #18 following their first loss in more than two months.
First, let me throw my fit. The Bearcats were not even favored to win that game. SMU, who is now #12 in KenPom, was favored by 4.5 points, in part because the game was at Moody Coliseum, where they are about as unbeatable as UC is in Clifton. So the Bearcats went into a tough venue, lost to a team KenPom considers a 3-seed, in a game that Vegas said they “should” have lost, and they drop seven spots. SMU, on the other hand, is the new hottest team in the country. They flew all the way from #25 to #19, which sends conflicting messages. Either UC is a good team that SMU managed to beat, or UC sucks so bad that they lost to SMU, who isn’t that good. Having each team fly 100mph in opposite directions seems extremely contradictory to me.
Pause. Deep breaths. Look beneath the surface.
In last week’s poll, yes, the Bearcats were ranked #11. However, UC was 239 points behind #10 UCLA and just 37 points head of #14 Florida State. There was a bubble from #11–14 and the Bearcats happened to be on the front of it. This week, the Bearcats are ranked #18. However, UC has a 219-point lead on #19 SMU and trail #15 Florida by just 83 points. Now there’s a bubble from #15–18 and the Bearcats just happen to be on the back of it.
This means that our fall looks really dramatic, but in reality we fell from barely ahead of #14 last week to barely behind #15 this week. Obviously it doesn’t feel good, but the AP voting body hasn’t totally slammed us as bad as it appears on the surface.
Looking at some big picture stuff, the Bearcats picked the right team to lose to. Not only does this loss hurt their standing less than most, but it also helps out the conference’s only other good team. UC can now say it plays in a conference with two Top 20 teams, which sounds kind of nice. Cincinnati and SMU both need to win out for maximum effect, although I’d be perfectly fine if the Ponies slipped up to a fringe team like Houston (who they play on the road this week), allowing the Bearcats to win the regular season title.
The Mick Cronin Rankings Tracker tells me that the Bearcats have now been in the Top 25 for 12 of 15 possible weeks. The Cronin Era record is 14 total weeks, so the Bearcats are on pace to surpass that.
Their job remains simple. Just keep winning.
Biggest UC fan: Just about everybody dropped the Bearcats this week, which makes sense. Everyone, that is, except for Matt McCoy! My new personal hero from WTVM Columbus had the Bearcats at #12 last week and didn’t waver this week. I would’ve appreciated a bit more love when they were riding a 15-game winning streak, but I’m glad that Matt held firm in his belief and became the Bearcats highest vote this week. Most UC fans don’t like people from Columbus, but I think Mr. McCoy will be a folk hero this week. He is a gentleman and a scholar.
Biggest UC hater: Chris Dachille, if you can’t handle the Bearcats at their worst, you don’t deserve them at their best. Per Chris, last week the Bearcats were an unstoppable force of sport, and the #6 team in the country. Play poorly and lose a road game to a ranked team? You’re #19 now and also I’m going to slander you on Twitter a bit and backtrack and pretend like I wasn’t in love seven days ago. This is like when your girlfriend cheats on you and your only defense mechanism is to say “Well, yeah I knew she was gonna do that. She’s always been a cheater. That time I proposed last week was just a joke.” Bad job outta you, Chris.
Krista Pirtle Update: Last week, the internet was on fire when I put Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s Krista Pirtle in my crosshairs after inexplicably ranking the Bearcats at #19. Shortly thereafter, CBS Sports copied me by publishing an article on the topic. Shortly after that, the story came full circle as the Enquirer published an article about the article that CBS Sports stole from me. It may be difficult for normal citizens to understand, but us journalists live in a dog eat dog world, and no good idea is safe when you’re the little man with 2,000 readers on a blog about Southwest Ohio’s premiere academic institution.
Anyway, Krista ranked the Bearcats #19 again this week. Touché.