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.)
The rise of the Cincinnati Bearcats marches on this week, as UC sneaks up to #12, their highest rank since they were undefeated way back in Week 4. They were ranked #11 that week, their best of the season. You gotta believe a 2-0 showing this week at UCF and home against ECU could match that high water mark.
Cincinnati garnered 858 points in this week's poll, significant only because it places them 70 points behind (and directly beneath) Xavier. Consider that the Christmas Day poll featured the Bearcats at #21 and Xavier at #6, and it's remarkable that the Muskies are now one false move from slipping into second place in the state just three weeks later.
Speaking of the state, Chris Holtmann is a real life wizard and has led the "rebuilding" Buckeyes into the Top 25. I would not have believed that in November. I'm not completely convinced Ohio State is a real threat, but you simply have to respect what they've done this year. Next year's opener is going to be a madhouse.
Playing in the AAC is terrible, and I don't have to convince anyone of that fact. However, if there's a single silver lining it's what we're about to experience in the next three weeks and change. The Bearcats have won eight games in a row, surging back to #12 in the poll. While most top-15 teams are hitting the meat of their schedule, the AAC is pillowy soft. KenPom is 72% confident in a Bearcat win on Tuesday at UCF. In the six games that follow, their toughest game figures to be a home tilt with Houston in a game KenPom gives the 'Cats an 80% chance of winning. Simply do what they're capable of without overlooking anyone and this win streak will hit 15 games just as the rest of America starts to feel the weight of February basketball. You gotta believe a 22-2 Cincinnati team, if they can make that a reality, will be extraordinarily hard to count out of the upper echelon of this poll.
Knock. On. Wood.
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 1-8, Points: 1,623-1,276
This weird season has essentially merged the top two tiers. If there's an upper class, it's the top three of Villanova, Virginia, and Purdue--the three teams receiving first-place votes. However, the point disparity is small and this is basically one big chunk of teams at the top of the heap. Conference foe Wichita is near the rear here, slipping a bit after narrowly escaping Tulsa.
Tier 2: Rankings 9-13, Points: 1,062-829
Welcome to the party, Bearcats. You're officially in the same tier as Michigan State. UC is near the rear here, but I don't care. The very top of this poll is a mess, and the Bearcats are on the verge of reaching the sloppy peak called Tier 1.
Tier 3: Rankings 14-16, Points: 723-639
These are the teams nobody knows what to do with: Arizona, North Carolina, and Arizona State. This is No Man's Land.
Tier 4: Rankings 17-21, Points: 523-358
Here are your remaining consensus Top 25 teams--the programs that only a few voters would argue should be unranked.
Tier 5: Rankings 22-25, Points: 276-143
Here are your fringe teams. All of these guys made the poll, but only barely. 10 voters think OSU should be unranked, 16 are out on Michigan, 22 on TCU, and an incredible 29 voters don't have Miami ranked.
Biggest UC fan: Chris Dachille (may he live forever) has the 'Cats at #7, their highest nod since Week 4. Chris is simply the best. I'm unbiased on this matter.
Biggest UC hater: Where to begin...
Seth Davis was the target of my ire last week. This week, he moved the Bearcats up two spots, so I won't really complain about him despite the fact that his ballot has trash on it, such as a 4-loss Michigan team in the Top 10.
Let's do Graham Couch. Way back in Week 8, the Bearcats had righted the ship to return to their winning ways, riding a four-game winning streak on Christmas Day. The Bearcats were ranked #21 in that poll, but Couch gave UC a vote of confidence, slotting them at #16 on his ballot for the second straight week. Neat!
The Bearcats went 1-0 that week, but slipped two spots to #18 in Couch's ballot. Uh oh!
The Bearcats went 2-0 the following week, but slid down another two spots to #20 in Couch's ballot. Yikes!
This past week, UC tacked on another win but fell again in Couch's Top 25 to #21. Oh no!
That's right. The Bearcats are 7-0 since the Week 7 poll, yet have fallen five spots in Graham Couch's ballot in that span. Not sure that makes sense, but I'm guessing this is involved: