Monday, November 26, 2018

Benton Smith: No need to panic about KU getting leapfrogged for No. 1 (again)

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (24) drives to the basket past Tennessee guard Jordan Bowden (23) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (24) drives to the basket past Tennessee guard Jordan Bowden (23) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)


Udoka Azubuike, Lagerald Vick and Dedric Lawson won’t be losing any sleep with Monday’s news that Gonzaga vaulted past Kansas to the No. 1 spot in the new AP poll.

Neither will their coach, Bill Self, whose list of things to worry about doesn’t include any mention of how many votes his team did or didn’t receive.

Perhaps we should follow their lead.

Sure, rankings can be a fun way to track the progress of any given college basketball season. But the system is flawed. Not every voter approaches her or his top 25 with the same criteria, and some people who fill out a ballot each week just may have built-in biases, whether they think they do or not, because, you know, they are human.

Is No. 1 Gonzaga better than No. 2 Kansas? Maybe so.

The debate isn’t without ambiguity. Just look at the results from this week’s AP poll: The perennial West Coast Conference champions edged the Big 12’s reigning champs, 1,590-1,584, in points and, 32-31, in first-place votes. That’s not exactly a consensus.

If any outrage regarding the Jayhawks’ No. 2 standing exists among KU’s passionate fan base, that’s because, traditionally, when the No. 1 team loses and the No. 2 team doesn’t, that usually means a bump in next week’s rankings for the runner-up.

What makes this even more of an outlier for the Jayhawks, of course, is that this is the second time this month a team below them overtook them in the rankings for the No. 1 slot.

Although KU remains unbeaten, its status as the AP poll’s preseason No. 1 proved short-lived once Duke (the AP’s preseason No. 4 team) walloped Kentucky (preseason No. 2) at the Champions Classic, on the same night and in the same Indianapolis arena where the Jayhawks had just defeated Michigan State (ranked No. 10 at the time) by five points.

Duke got credit for pummeling Kentucky. Two weeks later, Gonzaga pulled in an influx of national respect by knocking off No. 1 Duke. And few outside of Lawrence seem to care that the Jayhawks own neutral court victories over two teams currently ranked in the top 10: No. 6 Tennessee and No. 9 Michigan State.

Is Gonzaga actually better than Duke? The Bulldogs were on Thanksgiving Eve in Hawaii, more than four months before they could possibly meet again, deep in the NCAA Tournament.

Is KU better than Duke? Now that’s a matchup I’d love to see, providing some Cinderella or hot-shooting underdog doesn’t prevent it from happening when March finally gets here.

While we’re all waiting and watching the season play out, though, just remember that in-season rankings end up footnotes to footnotes in the grand scheme of a five-month-long season capped by a crapshoot do-or-die tournament to determine the national champion.

Students don’t make “We’re No. 2!” posters to bring to hold up for TV cameras inside Allen Fieldhouse and fans don’t design “We’re No. 1 in November” edits for Instagram and Twitter, either, because all that anyone ultimately remembers about any KU team’s season transpires in March and, occasionally, April.

The good news for KU fans is that some potential Jayhawk-jumpers — No. 4 Virginia, No. 5 Nevada and No. 7 Michigan, all of which remain undefeated, too — aren’t soon playing against any other top-ranked teams that might inspire voters to disregard the Jayhawks as a No. 1 choice.

The bad news? It’s easy to foresee Duke clobbering its nonconference competition the next few weeks, Kansas playing a close game here or there while maintaining a loss-free record, Gonzaga suffering a narrow loss that knocks them from the top of the poll and the Blue Devils lapping KU once again.

Just remember not to agonize over it when it happens. This is college basketball. Let’s save our overthinking for March.


Andy Tweedy 3 years, 7 months ago

Yeah man, who cares? It's not even November yet, and this team looks like it has a pretty high ceiling!

Marcia Parsons 3 years, 7 months ago

I've never been comfortable in #1. Feels like bad luck. And we already have a big x on our backs because we're Kansas. We don't need the curse of #1 on top of it.

Jeff Coffman 3 years, 7 months ago

The bigger joke is how Duke got a first place vote.

Do they disclose who voted that way, so we can ridicule them for not following the games and still voting?

Phil Leister 3 years, 7 months ago

Jesse Newell, that's who voted Duke no. 1.

And to think, I used to respect his opinion.

Jonathan Allison 3 years, 7 months ago

not that I don't believe you, but can you link to your source that Newell voted for Duke at #1? Newell is an analytics guy of course and so I can only assume that he had some data telling him that despite the loss Duke is still the best team... is blocked on my network but if Pomeroy still ranks Duke #1 I could see Newell still voting them #1.

Eric TheCapn 3 years, 7 months ago

WOW! Those are some out-there choices! :o

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 7 months ago

And I felt that you were being sarcastic. Newel, WTF?


1 Duke

2 Kansas

3 Virginia

4 Gonzaga

5 Nevada

6 Michigan

7 North Carolina

8 Auburn

9 Texas Tech

10 Tennessee

Brian Mellor 3 years, 7 months ago

It's just conversation fodder, at this point I don't really see the point of 'it don' matter!' posts or articles other than trying to appear above the conversation while still taking part in it. We all know it doesn't matter.

But in the essence of how little it matters: after the throttling at the Champions Classic, the AP/sports media had two options: go with the narrative that Duke was World Beater and could go 40-0 (stupid but puffs up Duke talk), or go with the narrative that Kentucky didn't look very good and neither side played defense for crap (reasonable but doesn't puff up Duke talk and slows down UK talk). They went with the one that generates clicks, and they're riding it until it falls over.

Tony Bandle 3 years, 7 months ago

Maybe the voters thought it was a poll to choose the greatest Japanese movie monster and got Gonzaga confused with Godzilla!!!

Jonathan Allison 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm really surprised that there isn't a youtube video of 50' tall Rui Hachimura of Gonzaga ascending from the depths to destroy Duke Basketball.

Joe Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

Gamera was the all-time greatest movie monster.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 7 months ago

Please, not even a classic. Stick with Bella Lugosi but if you need it to be a big then go with King Kong.

Waylon Cook 3 years, 7 months ago

Nobody cares about the polls. Seeding in the tourney? Yes. Polls in November? No.

Tom Longhofer 3 years, 7 months ago

Gonzaga beat Duke. Does that mean Gonzaga is better than Duke?

Steve Quatrocky 3 years, 7 months ago

Agreed, no need to panic or get bent way out of shape this early but it does clearly show the Tobacco Road bias toward Duke/NC that has existed since the polls started.

Bryce Landon 3 years, 7 months ago

Nobody's panicking, but some of us are outraged by the snub, and rightfully so.

Eric TheCapn 3 years, 7 months ago

You're OUTRAGED? Damn, bruv. Pick your battles. :)

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 7 months ago

Motivation. This will keep the fire burning.

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