The Bearcats make a triumphant return to the Top 15 of the AP Poll this week for the first time since they were #11 way back before the Crosstown Shootout. It feels good to be back, especially on the back of two important wins and mass chaos on the college basketball landscape.
Not only did the 'Cats reach #14 this week, but they're nearly tied for #13 with Seton Hall, while holding a sizable lead over Gonzaga at #15. This exceeded my expectations, which was a nice surprise.
Despite all of this good news, there is certainly enough frustration to go around. The Bearcats would be at #13 right now if not for a handful of voters (most notably, two guys) who actually moved the Bearcats down in their Week 10 ballots. Look, I'm not asking for much. I'm not asking for UC to be a unanimous top-10 team. I do, however, think it's fair to expect UC moves upwards after two nice wins and half of the Top 25 losing. There are a couple voters who have the Bearcats at #22 this week. While I think it's patently absurd to rank this team outside of the Top 20 and behind four-loss teams, I'm letting it go because at least the Bearcats improved on those two ballots. My expectations are super low and many voters still fail to meet them.
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: 1,611-1,390
Here are your Final Four favorites thus far.
Tier 2: Rankings 5-11, Points: 1,225-1,036
This tier got really muddied this past week as tons of good teams lost. This basically rounds out the group of great teams in the country to this point. Conference foe Wichita State is tied for first with Purdue in this tier.
Tier 3: Rankings 12-14, Points: 888-739
Here's where Cincinnati is bringing up the rear, right behind Seton Hall. You could argue Kansas belongs in the Tier 2, but their point total is more in line with Tier 3. These are your Sweet 16-caliber teams thus far.
Tier 4: Rankings 15-20, Points: 676-423
These are a lot of the teams that lost last week, mixed in with a team that's hot but hasn't proved much (Clemson).
Tier 5: Rankings 21-25, Points: 314-160
Kentucky feels really out of place at the top of this tier, but they've lost three games and haven't done anything away from home unless you're impressed by a win at LSU. They're joined by streaking teams like Auburn and Creighton as well as faltering teams like Tennessee and Florida State.
Receiving votes: Florida, who UC couldn't quite beat, is on the verge of peeking back into the Top 25. They fall at #27 this week. Ohio State is surprising many at #29 after their massive win over #1 Michigan State last weekend.
Biggest UC fan: I'll give it a three-way tie this week. Zach Osterman voted the 'Cats at #10. Doug Doughty has 'em at #9. Jesse Newell goes bold at #8, giving Cincinnati its highest AP vote since it got a #4 nod in Week 4.
Biggest UC hater: We have a tie, folks. First up let's tackle Graham Couch. If you participate in the college basketball Twitter world, you may have noticed a tweet from last month getting some traction this past weekend. That tweet was sent out by Couch, boldly proclaiming that no top-tier team, such as Duke or MSU, will ever lose like Villanova was at the time. It was so brave of Couch to point the finger at voters who made Villanova #1 when obviously they weren't a good team! As it turns out, to the surprise of nobody, other top-tier teams have the ability to lose. In fact, the very Duke and MSU teams that Couch boldly proclaimed were above defeat lost to mediocre teams over the weekend.
Anyway, this doesn't even have to do with UC. I mention it to illustrate the point that Couch doesn't actually know what he's talking about. Need further evidence? Check his Week 10 ballot. Not only is consensus top-1o Purdue inexplicably listed at #16, but UVa is outside of the Top 10, Miami is way up at #12, and Florida State with its three losses is at #13. The Bearcats, despite their 2-0 week, fall from #18 to #20 in Mr. Couch's ballot. I think this guy may have partied a bit too hard over New Year's.
The next hater award goes to the beautifully stupid Seth Davis. I don't really have anything against him, and typically enjoy his takes. That being said, he's raised cluelessness to an art form in this week's ballot.
Seton Hall is in the Top 10? Four-loss Arizona is at #11?! Auburn is at #16?? Davis decided Cincinnati's 2-0 week was actually a bad thing for the Bearcats, so he dropped them from #18 to #20 on this fantastic ballot. When asked to address this matter, Davis asserted that it comes with the AAC territory.
To clarify, here's what that exchange boiled down to:
"Hey Seth, why drop UC to #20? The Bearcats had a 2-0 week with a couple top-80 wins."
"Sorry, that's life in the American."
That's right. When presented with unbiased, conference-independent stats, Davis asserted that top-80 wins don't mean much because of UC's conference. I understand that inescapable biases exist, but to intentionally and willingly lean into them is insane to me. If you're aware of unbiased information, why, as a professional basketball writer, would you wantonly ignore that information in order to fall back on a bias?
It truly makes no sense to me.
And if you're still not convinced that Davis isn't all there, note the fact that he published two different polls last night: One on Twitter and one in his column. Impressive.
The Bearcats have relatively few hurdles ahead, so I expect this seven-game winning streak that put them back into the Top 15 to keep rolling. Basement-dwelling USF comes on Saturday, followed by a dangerous UCF squad. Get past the Knights and there are home games against crummy ECU and floundering Temple, followed by a road trip to the Memphis team UC opened AAC play against.
This series should be fun in the coming weeks, because the Bearcats have the complete capability to continue winning for the next month or so.