Don’t Hate on Michigan or Kansas … Hate the College Basketball Polling Process

There is a fundamental problem with how we rank college teams in this country.

While this comes to the surprise of absolutely nobody, the inconsistencies will still be a weekly source of frustration for hardcore fans for the foreseeable future.

Should Bill Self's Jayhawks be #1? Or Michigan? Don't look to this week's polls to provide a definitive answer.

Should Bill Self’s Jayhawks be #1? Or Michigan? Don’t look to this week’s polls to provide a definitive answer.

If things go as expected, then at 1:00 today, we will have two teams – Kansas and Michigan – that can call themselves the nation’s #1 Team.

Kansas fans will be quick to point out that the coaches, a.k.a. “the guys that really know” voted their team number one. And why wouldn’t they?  The two teams have identical records, but Michigan lost just two weeks ago to a team that the Jayhawks handled themselves. Kansas is riding a 17-game winning streak while Michigan has yet to hit the most brutal part of their schedule.

Wolverines fans will remind us that even though the nation’s coaches have great basketball minds, they really have no time to actually study all of the games from around the nation. In fact, these “guys that really know” end up doing foolish things like this (ranking an 8-2 UNC team that lost to Butler AHEAD OF an 8-2 Butler team) on a weekly basis.

More than that, though, Michigan passes the eye test, has more depth, plays in the tougher Big Ten, and has simply looked better on a more consistent basis than the Jayhawks in 2012-13.

Here’s the thing: both guys are right.

The result is that we have two #1 teams, an oxymoron that will lead us all to agreeing that polls don’t really matter and the teams will hopefully be able to settle it for themselves in March Madness.

The problem is that March Madness, while exciting, still has its flaws and often doesn’t really ensure that the best team wins it all.

When it comes to polling, there seem to be two schools of thought. It would be good for the sanity of everyone involved if the pollsters just decided which school they wanted to uphold.

School of Thought #1:

The “Every Single Game Affects Everything About Our Rankings” Method

This is the school of thought that the coaches seem to hold on a weekly basis.

Ignoring the fact that there is no way that Coach K, Tom Izzo, and Rick Barnes actually care about the rankings (well, actually Rick Barnes might care…after all, there is no way one of his teams is going to settle something come March, right?), it’s more than likely that most head coaches probably just give their list to an assistant who simply looks at last week’s rankings and adjusts it using the following logic:

  • Did a team lose? If yes, move down four to five spots no matter who they lost to. If no, move them above any team that they were nearby that lost.

Obviously, this makes about as much sense as Manti Te’o’s girlfriend is making these days.

Whether it’s football or basketball, there is no room for analysis in this format.

This past season, #8 Michigan played #2 Alabama to kick off the college football season. Now, if we were to agree with those initial rankings, then we should all agree that the Crimson Tide, on a neutral field, would most likely beat the Wolverines. Alabama is the second best team in the country and Michigan is eighth…since 2 > 8, it’s logical that 2 would beat 8.

That’s exactly what happened.

Of course, Michigan needlessly plummeted to #19 under the always flawless logic that, “Since Virginia Tech beat Rutgers by a field goal, they have to be better than the Wolverines.”

This happens every year in both sports and is completely insane.

Over the next two and a half weeks, the Wolverines will play AT Indiana, Michigan State, and Wisconsin ,with a home game against arch-rival Ohio State thrown in for fun. Three of those teams are currently ranked in the top fifteen. None of those games will be easy.

If Michigan goes 3-1 over those four games, they will most likely fall in the rankings. Nobody that follows college basketball would start believing the Michigan was a worse team – except for the pollsters.

This method has to go. It’s inane.  It’s insane.  It’s outdated.

Again, the idea that one game should dramatically affect whether or not you think a given team is the best team in the country is simply ludicrous. We must adapt our ideology to allow legitimate analysis to enter the equation.

School of Thought #2

The much better “I’m actually going to watch the games and decide for myself how good each team is” method.

Obviously, this method is not perfect. Subjectivity is rarely going to be completely accurate and satisfy everyone.

For instance, Michigan fans can explain away their loss at Ohio State by saying, “We played poorly, we started out flat, and it’s always tough to beat your rival.”  All of those things are correct, but Ohio State also did exploit something in Michigan’s game that we had yet to see at that point in the season – Trey Burke couldn’t handle Aaron Craft’s pressure, and as good as Tim Hardaway Jr. is, he’s not really cut out to be a PG.

Of course, this flaw is pretty minor. Trey Burke is the best PG in the nation, and on a nightly basis, he will completely dominate opposing PGs. He’s also not the first guy to be driven insane by Aaron Craft’s unbelievable on-ball defense – just ask Tyshawn Taylor.

Still, as deep as Michigan is, they would not be able to survive an injury to Burke were it to happen. What the Ohio State game also showed was that if Burke can’t get it going (he was 4-13 with four turnovers), Michigan is not nearly as unstoppable as they sometimes look. Hardaway can dribble, slash, and drive to the basket as well as anyone in college right now, but he can’t run the show for Michigan.

All teams have weaknesses, and Michigan’s weakness is probably the most minor of anyone’s. That’s why, in many minds, Michigan should be the #1 team. They pass the eye test.

Of course, many of you probably disagree with my analysis – after all, it is my own. That’s why this analysis should always be mixed with (hold your breath, old-timers) some advanced metrics.

Take a look at the RPI. Study the Pomeroy Ratings. What does Jeff Sagarin have to say?

All three of those indexes do something that we can’t do: they look at the data objectively.

The RPI and Sagarin have Kansas ahead of Michigan. KenPom has Michigan in front of the Jayhawks.

A smart pollster would study the teams and trust his own analysis to get him to a certain point. Then, when things are close, he should consult the unbiased sources to help him “break some ties.”

This would also mean that coaches shouldn’t even have a poll.  I don’t think they would mind.  After all, every coach is scrutinized on a daily basis, why does he need to be criticized and mocked for his rankings too?

I think Michigan is slightly better than Kansas. KenPom agrees, while the RPI and Sagarin disagree. At this point, it’s my call.

I say Michigan is #1 and Kansas is #2. Feel free to disagree. At least it’s much better than saying, “Michigan lost two weeks ago, they can’t be better than Kansas.”

And the next five games probably won’t and shouldn’t change that. Well, unless Michigan goes 0-5 and Burke blows out his ACL. Then each and every game will start mattering a little more.



About Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn grew up in Indianapolis, IN and as such, is a diehard Pacers, Colts, and Cubs fans. When it comes to college, he cheers for Notre Dame football fan and Purdue basketball. Yes, this sounds shady, but since he grew up without cable, he learned to love Notre Dame - the only team on TV. Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson was at Purdue when Jon was in his formative years, so he latched onto them as well. Did that make him a fair-weather fan at the time? Sure. Give him a break...he was 8...and he has stayed with those teams ever since. Currently, he lives in Charleston, SC with his wife who grew up in Cleveland. Although he is no longer physically in the Midwest, his heart will always be there. Jon goes by the name "Twitch" because he has Tourette's Syndrome. Hit him up on his twitter @jwtwitch.

Comments

  1. Well I sincerely liked reading it. This tip offered by
    you is very useful for good planning.

  2. I’m not sure the place you’re getting your information, but good topic.
    I needs to spend a while learning more or understanding more.
    Thank you for wonderful information I used to be searching for this info
    for my mission.

  3. all the time i used to read smaller articles which as well clear
    their motive, and that is also happening with this article which I am reading here.

  4. I got what you intend,saved to favorites, very decent website.

  5. I was wondering if you ever considered changing the structure of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two images. Maybe you could space it out better?|

  6. This is a really good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere.
    Short but very accurate info… Thanks for sharing this one.
    A must read article!

  7. I always used to read article in news papers but now as I am a user of web therefore from now I am using net for articles, thanks to web.

  8. You really make it seem so easy together with
    your presentation however I to find this topic to be actually one
    thing that I think I might never understand. It kind of
    feels too complicated and very huge for me. I am taking a look ahead in your subsequent post, I will try to get the dangle of it!

  9. A fascinating discussion is worth comment. I do think that you ought to
    write more on this subject, it may not be a taboo matter but generally people don’t discuss such subjects.
    To the next! Cheers!!

  10. I have been examinating out a few of your stories and i can state pretty good stuff.
    I will definitely bookmark your site.

  11. Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic but I
    was wondering if you knew where I could locate a captcha plugin for my comment
    form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having trouble finding
    one? Thanks a lot!

  12. You actually make it seem so easy along with your presentation however I in finding this topic to be actually something that I believe I would by no means understand.
    It kind of feels too complex and extremely vast for me.
    I am taking a look forward to your next submit, I’ll try to get the hold of it!

  13. Hello! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you knew
    where I could get a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having
    difficulty finding one? Thanks a lot!

  14. I will right away seize your rss feed as I can not to find your e-mail subscription link or e-newsletter service.
    Do you’ve any? Kindly permit me understand in order that I may just subscribe.
    Thanks.

  15. Excellent post however , I was wanting to know if you
    could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very grateful if you
    could elaborate a little bit more. Thanks!

  16. I’ve been browsing online more than 2 hours today, yet I never found any
    interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth enough for me.
    In my opinion, if all website owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will be much more
    useful than ever before.

  17. I have been examinating out many of your posts and it’s pretty
    nice stuff. I will make sure to bookmark your website.

  18. I like the valuable information you provide to your articles.
    I will bookmark your weblog and test once more right here
    frequently. I’m slightly sure I will be informed plenty of new stuff proper here!
    Best of luck for the next!

  19. Hey! Quick question that’s completely off
    topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly?
    My web site looks weird when browsing from my iphone 4.
    I’m trying to find a template or plugin that might be able to correct this problem.
    If you have any suggestions, please share. Thank you!

  20. I simply couldn’t depart your site before suggesting that I extremely loved the
    usual information an individual supply for your guests?
    Is gonna be again frequently to check up on new posts

  21. Unquestionably believe that which you stated.
    Your favorite justification seemed to be on the net the
    easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you,
    I definitely get irked while people consider worries that they
    plainly don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined
    out the whole thing without having side-effects , people can take a signal.
    Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  22. Very rapidly this web site will be famous among all blog people, due to it’s good articles

  23. Hello friends, how is everything, and what you desire
    to say on the topic of this article, in my view its really amazing in favor of me.

  24. Valuable info. Fortunate me I discovered your web site unintentionally, and I’m stunned why
    this coincidence didn’t happened earlier! I bookmarked it.

  25. Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having a tough time locating it but, I’d like to send you an e-mail.

    I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing.

    Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it
    expand over time.

  26. My brother suggested I might like this website. He was totally right.
    This submit actually made my day. You can not consider simply how
    much time I had spent for this information! Thank you!

  27. In fact when someone doesn’t be aware of afterward
    its up to other users that they will assist, so here it happens.

  28. Hey! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering which blog platform
    are you using for this site? I’m getting fed up of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for
    another platform. I would be fantastic if you could point me in the direction of
    a good platform.

  29. I would like to take the ability of saying thanks to you for the professional instruction I have enjoyed going to your
    site. I’m looking forward to the actual commencement of my college research and the overall preparing would never have been complete without surfing your web blog.
    If I can be of any help to others, I’d personally be thankful to help
    as a result of what I have discovered from here.

  30. I was just looking for this info for some time. After 6 hours of continuous Googleing, at last I got it in your site.
    I wonder what’s the lack of Google strategy that do not rank this type of informative web sites in top
    of the list. Usually the top sites are full of garbage.

  31. Wow, superb weblog structure! How lengthy have you ever been blogging
    for? you make blogging glance easy. The total look of your web site is magnificent, as smartly as the
    content material!

  32. Unquestionably believe that which you stated.
    Your favorite justification seemed to be on the internet
    the easiest factor to remember of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed whilst folks consider issues that
    they just don’t recognise about. You controlled to hit the nail upon the top and outlined out the entire thing without having side effect , people
    could take a signal. Will likely be back to get more.
    Thank you

  33. I was very pleased to discover this page. I need to to thank you for your time for this particularly wonderful read!!
    I definitely loved every part of it and i also have you book marked to check out new stuff
    on your blog.

  34. Exactly what I was looking for, regards for putting up.

  35. I love reading through an article that will make people think.
    Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

  36. I don’t know whether it’s just me or if everybody else encountering issues with your site.
    It appears as if some of the written text on your content
    are running off the screen. Can someone else please provide
    feedback and let me know if this is happening to them as well?
    This could be a issue with my internet browser because I’ve had this happen previously.

    Appreciate it

  37. I’m gone to inform my little brother, that he should also pay a quick visit this website on regular basis to take
    updated from latest reports.

Speak Your Mind