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 Queen City is back in the Top 10 for the first time since 2014 and the third time in the past six seasons. It feels great.
I know I briefly waxed poetic about this on Twitter, but this is a great excuse to dote on Mick Cronin. Back in 2006 when Mick took over the program, it was at the center of a blast radius. The story has been told countless times, most recently on CBS Sports' Men of March special, but Mick was building from a pile of rubble that was still burning.
Not only was he able to construct a winner from the ground up in just four years, but he did it in the midst of the best basketball conference in the country. It's nothing short of heroic.
I'm sure many fans during the 2006-07 season doubted whether or not Cronin would pay off in the long run, yet here we are. The only season since 2009-10 in which the Bearcats did not appear in the Top 25 was 2014-15--a year that saw Mick leave the program after nine games due to a health issue. Additionally, the team has reached new heights since 2012, peaking at #8, #7, #11, and now #9 in that span.
I say this while pointing the finger at myself, but everyone has taken for granted that Mick has silently and diligently returned the program to where it was during the Kenyon Martin era. The 'Cats have yet to return to the Top 5 (or #1), but the best comparison for the past five or six years is the stretch from the mid- to late-'90s. That deserves our praise. None of us deserve the success or stability Cronin gives UC. The final remaining piece is a run in March.
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 1-5, Points: 1,623-1,338
The upper crust is starting to form again, at least a little bit. Villanova, Duke, and Purdue are your elites, but Duke and Kansas are close enough to make it interesting.
Tier 2: Rankings 6-12, Points: 1,243-917
The Bearcats have battled their weird to 10 straight wins and a 17-2 record, enough to earn them a single-digit number. It looks great on us.
Just ahead of UC in this tier are Michigan State, West Virginia, and Xavier--three teams I considered to be pretty good. Behind UC are a couple of elite programs in North Carolina and Arizona, rounded out by an Oklahoma team that boast the Player of the Year. The Bearcats are in rarefied air and are poised to remain here for a bit.
Tier 3: Rankings 13 & 14, Points: 787-763
There's another No Man's Land in this week's poll. This week it's occupied by two programs streaking past one another. Texas Tech falls from #8 to #14 with two losses and Ohio State surges from #22 to #13 on the back of a seven-game win streak. I'm a little biased, and I'm impressed enough with Ohio State to praise them for a second straight week, but I'm not convinced the Buckeyes finish the year as a top-15 team. We'll see. I'm still very impressed thus far.
Tier 4: Rankings 15-19, Points: 610-470
Here are your remaining "consensus" Top 25 teams--the programs that only a few voters would argue should be unranked. Wichita finds themselves here after a slightly baffling week. All in all, this is a very weird group of teams.
Tier 5: Rankings 20-25, Points: 366-123
I saw an AP voter joking on Twitter that he only wanted to rank 24 teams this week, and you see that manifested in this tier. Things taper of really quickly. Florida and Arizona State are both teams that previously ranked in the Top 5. After them, things get iffy with five-loss Tennessee, a really fun Nevada team, Rhode Island, and five-loss Michigan. It really feels like there are only 21 or 22 teams that are top-25 quality at this point.
Biggest UC fan: Chris Dachille is back, baby. We're riding with Chris until the wheels fall off after he gave the Bearcats their highest AP vote since 2014 by ranking them at #5 this week. Chris is a gentleman, a scholar, and a handsome devil that knows his basketball.
Biggest UC hater: This is weird to say, but there's not really anyone I feel needs to be truly roasted this week. While there are votes lower than I'd agree with, basically everyone has 10-game-winning-streak UC headed upwards, which is all I really ask for.
There is one gentleman who leaps off the page, however, and his name is Elton Alexander. The man from my native Cleveland has harshly betrayed me on some Caesar and Brutus-type stuff, dropping the streaking Bearcats from #10 to #12 in his Week 12 ballot, behind 4-loss (and struggling) Oklahoma, 4-loss (and struggling) Texas Tech, and 4-loss (and struggling) Wichita.
Look, I think #12 is an okay ranking. I think #10 is more fair, but #12 is at the low end of acceptable. That being said, I don't see how it's fair to place a 17-2 team on a 10-game streak behind three different teams on two-game losing streaks. Honestly, it's incredible that three teams are able to have winless weeks and remain in the Top 10 in Elton's poll while a scorching-hot Bearcats team actually falls. It's almost as if he took the week off from watching hoops and re-submitted last week's ranking, assuming everyone in the Top 10 had gone undefeated.
I won't get too venomous, because #12 isn't the end of the world and I think the poll was good to Cincinnati this week, but that ballot was bizarre enough to warrant mentioning.
Life is good. Keep winning. Go Bearcats.