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 Bearcats' slow and steady ascent of the AP Poll marches on this week this week as UC improves its standing for the fifth week in a row on the back of a 12-game win streak. They'll enter February at #8, their highest ranking since the 2014 season.
Historically, Week 13 has been good for the Bearcats in the Mick Cronin era. Week 14 is the death trap. Fingers crossed this year. Let's get through this week.
The most striking thing about this week's AP Poll is that 99% of voters have the Bearcats at #9 or higher. A month or so ago I was thrilled about being a unanimous top-20 team and now the Bearcats are nearly a unanimous top-9. Even historically anti-UC voters are on board, with both Dick Vitale and Seth Davis joining the hype train.
Things should continue this week with a home tilt against Houston and a road game against UConn. Houston is the third best team in the conference, per KenPom. The Bearcats haven't really been challenged at home, with the narrowest margin of victory coming in a 15-point win against Mississippi State back in December. That will likely change this week, as I expect the Cougars to put up a fight. On the other hand, UConn has been putrid. The Huskies are in a tailspin yet again, and Saturday afternoon's game in Storrs should be an easy win. However, UConn games can be hard to predict. KenPom has UC favored by 14 points, but I could imagine the final score differing drastically in either direction.
The Bearcats are in great position to continue to climb, but things start to get trickier beginning this week. Just keep winning.
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 1-3, Points: 1,607-1,501
Villanova, Virginia, and Purdue are your elites this week once again. They're the only teams with 1,500 points and the only teams receiving first place votes.
Tier 2: Rankings 4-9, Points: 1,372-1,103
The Bearcats are again in Tier 2, but this time it extends higher. Cincinnati is lumped in with four modern blue bloods and Xavier.
Duke and Michigan State are holding the top of this tier down. Xavier, Kansas, and UC are within a 70-point spread, with the Jayhawks just 16 points in front of UC. Bringing up the rear is Arizona.
Tier 3: Rankings 10-12, Points: 987-840
Things start to fall off a cliff as soon as you look past the Top 12. After Texas Tech, Auburn, and Oklahoma you're into a slog of mid-majors and floundering teams that have fallen from the Top 10.
Tier 4: Rankings 13-22, Points: 753-327
This is the largest tier I've ever done, but there's nearly a perfect gradient of teams from #13-22 in this week's poll. The parity is impressive.
Tier 5: Rankings 23-25, Points: 172-100
The longer the season goes on, the more it starts to feel like there are really only about 20 top-25 caliber teams this season. At the rear are 6-loss Florida, 6-loss Michigan, and 5-loss Arizona State. Just outside the rankings are 5-loss Kansas State and 5-loss Florida State. What a bunch of uninspiring teams.
Biggest UC fan: As I've been saying, we'll continue to ride with Chris Dachille. He voted the Bearcats 4th this week, which is incredible. Placing top-5 votes were Cecil Hurt and Justin Jackson, so I had to mention them as well.
Biggest UC hater: This is a good one. Graham Couch loves that Power 5 bias. All of the 'extreme votes' on his College Poll Tracker ballot are either from underrating a non-P5 team or overrating a P5 team. Here's a sampling: 6-loss TCU (#33 AP) is at #23. Gonzaga (#14 AP) is at #21. St. Mary's (#13 AP) is at 20. 5-loss Kansas State (#26 AP) is at #16. Xavier (#6 AP) is at #11.
My favorite: 6-loss Michigan (#24 AP) is at #9. This guy really has a team with six losses in the Top 10. I refuse to care enough to do research on this, but I'd love to know the precedent for having a 6-loss team in the Top 10 of the AP Poll in January. Has it ever happened? Graham thinks it should've.
Anyway, the Bearcats are at #12, three spots behind a team with six losses. Graham is the only AP voter in America who did not place Cincinnati at #9 or higher and the only AP voter to place Michigan above #14. Not a good look for Graham, who may have accidentally outed himself as someone who doesn't know what he's talking about.