Ballot breakdown: Why one voter chose to not rank No. 1 Kansas in latest AP poll
It would be too easy to claim that the weekly poll by the Associated Press does not matter.
The college basketball season is a marathon, not a sprint. Being No. 1 now means absolutely nothing, and the goal is to be the team cutting down the nets in April. Or, at the very least, be closer to No. 1 come March.
Yet, in my opinion, Seth Davis of the Athletic hit it on the head in today’s column when he said that this poll does matter. It can give a program like Furman some attention from the casual fan. Most of all, though, it gets people talking about college basketball.
The latest poll, which was released Monday, revealed that unbeaten Kansas is back at No. 1 with 57 of the 65 first-place votes. Fans can say they don’t care about the polls, but there were a large collection of fans upset about KU falling from its No. 1 preseason ranking without losing.
And fans have every right to care about these polls. In fact, it is very good for the sport of college basketball.
With that being said, I’ll try to write a weekly blog after each updated poll with some notable takeaways. Most of them will be KU-related, but I will certainly mix in some notes on Big 12 teams and other prominent programs when relevant.
Kansas unranked on one ballot
I’ll try to avoid attacking AP voters on their ballots, because Gary Parrish already does a great job of that over at CBS every week.
Still, it is important to start this blog with Graham Couch’s poll, because it was the most outlandish ranking of KU all season. Prior to this week, Couch had been the low voter on the Jayhawks all year. He never listed Kansas higher than No. 3 in any poll, ranking the team No. 5 last week.
Couch’s reasoning, according to his column at the Lansing State Journal, is that he is downgrading teams for not playing true road games. He also removed Duke, Tennessee, Auburn, Texas Tech, Kentucky, Villanova and Texas from his top 25 for that same reason.
Here’s a snippet of his column: “In no other sport is the home court worth so much to momentum, to confidence. In no other sport does a road team, so smooth and high a few nights earlier in its own building, so often look like a befuddled, haphazard mess. The contrast between home and road in college hoops is so severe, to not play on the road is to take advantage of a system that creates the appearance of a larger chasm than really exists between the haves and have-nots.”
I have to give him credit, at least he's consistent. Couch claims he’d have no problem putting any teams back in the top 25 after their respective first true road games.
There is certainly some logic to valuing true road games, and not rewarding teams for just playing at home all the time. However, by nearly every metric, KU has played a rather difficult slate thus far. In fact, only 13 teams are ranked higher on KenPom’s adjusted strength of schedule.
Furthermore, this isn’t the first time Couch has been unreasonably low on the Jayhawks. In January of 2017, Parrish called him out in the poll attacks column for ranking KU 10 spots lower than anyone else.
Historical data in KU’s favor
Another reason why Couch’s poll doesn’t make sense is that it completely gets away from the point of these polls. These are supposed to be weekly power rankings, and fans want to know where their program stands among the college basketball landscape.
History would suggest that one of the top-12 teams will win the 2019 national title, according to a blog by John Gasaway of ESPN. So congrats in advance to Kansas, Duke, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Michigan, Virgina, Nevada, Auburn, Michigan State, Florida State, Texas Tech or North Carolina on winning the 2019 national title.
Every year since 2004, the eventual national champion has been ranked no lower than No. 12 in that season’s week six AP poll.
This would seem to debunk the myth that polls don’t matter, seeing as college basketball writers have a good idea by now. It also bodes well for the Jayhawks, who are at the top of that list without playing their best basketball yet.
Sticking with Jayhawks at No. 1
KU fans were rightfully miffed when the preseason No. 1 team was leapfrogged on two different occasions without losing a game.
The Jayhawks were bumped down to No. 2 in the first poll of the regular season following their 92-87 win over Michigan State in the first game of the Champions Classic. Gonzaga then propelled to No. 1 after its win over Duke in the Maui Classic, which occurred the same weekend that KU earned a win over Tennessee.
According to @KPIsports, three men’s basketball teams who were ranked the top team in the preseason fell in the next poll without losing. North Carolina in 1977-78 (replaced by Kentucky), Kentucky in 1980-81 (replaced by DePaul) and North Carolina in 1983-84 (replaced by Kentucky) all accomplished that feat.
It is worth mentioning, though, that three AP voters have listed Kansas at No. 1 in every single poll, including the preseason poll. Carlos Silva of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel and Marcus Fuller of the Star Tribune have all kept the Jayhawks at the top spot.
Even Dick Vitale listed KU at No. 2 last week, despite claiming the No. 1 team shouldn’t fall without losing following the Champions Classic this year.