Breaking The Poll

Breaking The Poll: Week 2


(David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

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 will break down AP voters and dissect why the Bearcats are ranked where they are. (This series is made possible by College Poll Tracker.)

It’s Week 2 of the 2016–17 college basketball season, and the Cincinnati Bearcats have arrived fashionably late to the party. After checking in just outside the Top 25 in the preseason poll, they eased their way past UConn and Maryland and into the second edition of the AP Poll at #24.

The most alarming thing I saw this week was Jerry Carino of Gannett (the Enquirer’s parent company) inexplicably moving the Bearcats from #17 to unranked after their decisive victory over Brown. Not only that, but he nudged Princeton (who didn’t play in Week 1) into the Top 25. When he was informed of this on Twitter, he assured me it was an oversight. While this is certainly a big goof, I think that apology is good enough. I demand AP Poll justice.

A nearly identical thing happened last season, when Elton Alexander (Plain Dealer) was one of UC’s strongest advocates in the preseason poll, ranking them at #18. In Week 2 and Week 3, he left them off his poll before deciding they were #16 in Week 4. I can’t explain these things.

Dave Borges (New Haven Register) gave the Bearcats a #15 nod this week, joining Cormac Gordon (Staten Island Advance). Through Week 2, these are the highest votes given to the Bearcats. Cormac gave UC its first Top 15 vote this season, so he’s my personal hero for the time being. If UC can get past Albany tonight and Rhode Island on Saturday, expect to see more attention in the Top 15 range. The Bearcats are looking for their first #14 vote since Week 7 of last season, which they earned by beating VCU on the road and promptly lost by losing to Temple at home.

For those curious: The last Top 10 vote for UC came from Jason Smith (The Commercial Appeal) in the final ballot of the 2013–14 season.

When attempting to crack the poll at this point in the season, the biggest thing to look for is the number of voters on UC’s side. The AP Poll is ranked by points, and you get points in reverse order of ranking on each ballot. For instance: If one voter ranks you #1, you get as many points as 25 voters ranking you #25. However, I’d much rather be on the radar of 25 voters. It sounds simple, but it’s much easier to move upward if you’ve got the attention of more people. In this regard, the Bearcats are headed in the right direction. 41 voters ignored UC in their preseason ballots. In Week 2, that number has dropped to 33 voters. Superstars like Seth Davis and Dick Vitale are now on board the Bearcats hype train.

The Bearcats gained just 10 points between the preseason poll and Week 2, but that was enough to get them to #24 and better position themselves for future advancement. Now that UC is in the AP Top 25, you’ll see them gain attention more rapidly because voters are generally lazy and are more likely to pick a team that’s already in the Top 25 rather than go off the board for an unranked squad.

For my fellow petty fans, your favorite voter is Graham Couch (Lansing State Journal). He gave UC its fourth-highest vote at #21 and gave Xavier its second-lowest vote at #17. He dropped the Musketeers 11 spots on his ballot after their shaky win over Lehigh and boosted the Bearcats three slots for cruising past Brown. You’re a gentleman and a scholar, Mr. Couch.

Easily the dumbest AP voter is Tod Palmer (Kansas City Star). He inexplicably ranked Xavier #4 (their highest vote) and ignored UC altogether. I guess we should expect as much from a guy whose name is Tod with one “D”.

This is a huge week for the Bearcats, as far as the polls go. It’s early in the season, so the poll is much less stable and voters are still forming their opinions. If UC can beat Albany, they’ll hold their position. If they can beat #21 Rhode Island, they’ll almost certainly enter the Top 20. If (by the grace of God) they can beat Duke, they’ll be zipping right up the poll. It’s gonna be a fun week.