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.)
I took a week off last week to mourn the Bearcats' slide out of the top ten. In the Week 17 edition, Cincinnati is right back at it, sliding up to #10. It's crazy how quickly we're able to become spoiled. the Bearcats are in the Top 10 and I'm barely fazed by it anymore. It's remarkable what Mick has done.
Aside from formally rejoining the nation's elite, the most noteworthy element of this week's poll is Wichita rolling up to #11. The Shockers have a road game against UCF on Thursday (one I expect them to win easily) and then play host to the Bearcats on Sunday. It'll be #10 on the road at #11. It's the game we've had circled since the schedule was announced. Many expected a top-10 matchup. While Wichita and Cincinnati have each had stumbles this year, we fell just short of reaching those expectations. That game will be huge.
Hey guys, guess when the last time the Bearcats played a conference opponent ranked #11 or higher in the AP Poll was? Don't click here.
As a smaller footnote, Houston was able to cling to their ranking, barely sliding in at #25 after their loss to Memphis last week. The Cougars play on the road at SMU before capping the regular season against UConn at home. It would benefit Houston, and the AAC as a whole, if the Coogs won each of those games and finished the regular season 24-6 and in the Top 25.
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 1-2, Points: 1,608-1,571
Virginia seems to be the closest thing we have to a national championship favorite, and they're leading the AP Poll as a result. Michigan State is hot on their tail, although I must confess that I don't think their resume is as impressive as the #2 team's should be. The metrics don't think much of Michigan State.
Tier 2: Rankings 3-9, Points: 1,422-1,140
Xavier notches their highest AP Poll position in program history after Villanova's loss last week. The Muskies, however, didn't notch a single first place vote, meaning they lead Tier 2 this week. This tier is occupied by Kansas, Duke, and North Carolina as well as recent powerhouses like Villanova and Gonzaga.
Tier 3: Rankings 10-15, Points: 1,013-753
The Bearcats are at the head of the pack in Tier 3, leading the way for conference foe Wichita, fallen star Texas Tech, in-state opponent OSU, Auburn, and Michigan. This is basically the ultimate hodge podge of teams. Does anyone else feel like we're guaranteed to have at least one of these guys make the Final Four?
Tier 4: Rankings 16-22, Points: 564-318
Here are your last good teams. This group consists of three solid mid-majors and Power Five teams saddled with losses. West Virginia is an eight-loss team in the Top 20.
Tier 5: Rankings 23-25, Points: 174-45
Here's your trash. Kentucky has nine losses, although they do have a three-game winning streak to come back from their four-game losing streak earlier this month. Middle Tennessee, a team close to my heart, is at #24 despite being #44 in KenPom. Their best KenPom win is a road game over Western Kentucky, which doesn't really do it for me. Bringing up the rear is Houston, a team objectively better than MTSU. The Cougars held onto their ranking with just 45 points. That's nearly unheard of, especially this late in the season. Just outside the Top 25 are 9-loss TCU and 10-loss Butler. Yuck.
Biggest UC fan: Let's go with Jesse Newell, despite the fact that he's probably crazy. He gave UC their highest vote at #6. (Stop reading here if you want to think he's a super smart voter.) He ranked Xavier #10, eight-loss WVU #12, nine-loss TCU #18, and 10-loss Butler #19. Truly bizarre. Anyway, thanks Jesse!
Biggest UC hater: Ben Steele gave UC their lowest vote at #16. I think the biggest reason I'm so hurt by this is that his UC vote is the only 'extreme vote' on his ballot. Every other vote on his ballot was deemed to be reasonable by College Poll Tracker. What wrong with us, Ben?! Why don't you love us???
This time next week, in the penultimate edition of this series, the 'Cats will hopefully have had a 2-0 week to finish the regular season in the Top 10 for the first time since 2002.