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.)
For the first time since 1999, the Cincinnati Bearcats will open the season in the Top 15. Now, most will say the preseason AP Poll is a joke — and they’re right. However, this is not an insignificant moment in the Mick Cronin tenure. For the first time since the days of Bob Huggins and Kenyon Martin, the national media as a whole sees the ‘Cats as one of the country’s top teams on paper. The Bearcats have obviously spent some time in the Top 10 during Cronin’s stretch in Clifton, but that was always something that had to be earned — an underdog winning a seat at the table, even for a week or two. Being placed there before any games are played means the talent exists on paper, which means the program is healthier than it has been in 15 years, which means the potential to succeed beyond that “underdog at the table” level is there. This is a significant moment.
The Bearcats are #12 in the preseason poll. They received 12 Top 10 votes. They received exactly 50 Top 15 votes, out of 65 voters. This means that 77% of what (in theory…) are the brightest basketball writers in America believe that the Bearcats belong in the Top 15.
The Bearcats last season peaked at seven Top 10 votes, when they were ranked #11. To the best of my knowledge, this is the most Top 10 votes the Bearcats have received since they were actually in the Top 10 last, in 2014. Getting a dozen basketball writers across the country to buy stock sight unseen is usually something that’s reserved for the major conference teams.
The Bearcats’ highest vote this week comes from Dave Borges, who has the red and black and #6. This #6 vote is the highest ranking for any team who didn’t make the Top 10. Nobody ranked West Virginia at #6. Or Miami, Notre Dame, Louisville, Xavier, etc.
Another narrative to keep an eye on is one we followed last season. Last year’s team was ranked for 16 weeks, the most time spent in the Top 25 since the 2003–04 team went wire-to-wire. I fully expect this team to do the same. I hope I don’t hate myself for saying this, but if the Bearcats are unranked at any point this season, something has gone terribly wrong.
Cincinnati’s 837 votes is solid, and it’ll get even stronger as the first couple weeks of the season go down. One thing to notice is that #11 West Virginia is just a hair ahead of the ‘Cats with 840. I’ll explain why that’s the case in a moment.
A new thing I want to try out this season is the idea of tiers. Not enough people talk about this, but it definitely exists in the AP Poll. If you examine how the votes shake out, you start to see groupings of teams. Four or five teams will fall in a 150-point window and then there will be a 200-point gap before the next team. There were a couple situations last season where the Bearcats lost a tough game and fell significantly. However, sometimes that fall can be deceiving when you notice Cincy is simply the last team in a five-team cluster of vote getters. Pointing out these tiers each week is 1) interesting and 2) hopefully going to give us a better idea of how the Bearcats are seen on a national landscape. Here are this week’s tiers:
Tier 1: Rankings 1–4, Points: 1,572–1,439
Obvious. These are the elites. They’re separated by 100 points and change, and are also the only teams who received a first-place vote.
Tier 2: Rankings 5–7, Points: 1,340–1,270
Teams knocking on the door. Very good, maybe not seen as elite. AAC rival Wichita is bringing up the rear here.
Tier 3: Rankings 8–14, Points: 1,100–814
Maybe seen as “Sweet Sixteen-caliber” teams? The Bearcats fall right in the middle here. Future opponent Florida is leading this tier.
Tier 4: Rankings 15–19, Points: 642–473
The gap between 14 and 15 is pretty wide, and you see why. All of these teams are perfectly solid, but carry some question marks.
Tier 5: Rankings 20–23, Points: 363–274
This is kind of your “good-not-great” section. This often consists of mid-majors or major-conference teams who haven’t proved much.
Tier 6: Rankings 24–25, Points: 163–130
These are your teams barely holding on. This is especially pronounced at the beginning of the season when there’s typically only about 20 or so consensus Top 25 teams. #24 Baylor is closer in points to #27 Virginia than they are to the team one slot ahead of them in the final poll. Texas A&M at #25 is hilarious because 39 of 65 voters (60%) didn’t rank them at all. They’re here on the strength of a #10 vote from Bob Holt and a couple more Top 15 nods. Weird early-season stuff.
Biggest UC fan: Dave Borges voted the Bearcats #6, their highest vote in this week’s poll and their highest vote since Week 14 (February 6) of last season when they got a #5 nod. Dave, you are a good man and a role model to many.
Biggest UC hater: John Feinstein might be the worst ever. There are a couple writers I really lit up in this section last season, but those were for either ranking the Bearcats too low or dropping them in their ballot following an undefeated week. Feinstein took a unanimous Top 20 team and left them out of his poll entirely. I’m serious. 64 of 65 voters have Cincinnati in the Top 20 and Feinstein, a person I’m not convinced knows anything about basketball, has them unranked. Let’s look at his poll. Notre Dame is in the Top 10. This is a bit of a stretch. Nobody ranked them higher. Xavier is #12, which is also a stretch. Nobody ranked them higher. He has Maryland at #21, one of just two voters to rank the Terps at all. They’re #41 in KenPom and don’t belong at #21.
HARVARD IS #25! I’ve been doing this series for almost a calendar year now, and this is the worst AP vote I’ve ever seen. Per KenPom, Harvard is #110 and is ranked third in the Ivy League. When confronted about all of this on Twitter, Feinstein was aghast that someone took issue with any of this and defended his position by essentially saying he ignores the premise of the poll entirely by picking a completely random mid-major at #25 and that anyone who feels he should vote based on his research of the Top 25 teams should “get over themselves.” Someone in a position of power completely ignoring the guidelines and then telling his critics that they’re the ones who need to “get over themselves” is fantastic.
Feinstein also snubbed #10 USC, if you’re looking for the cherry on top. That means he voted for the #110 KenPom team while snubbing #11 and #12 and then arguing with those who saw an issue with that.
God Bless the AP Poll.