POPE: Top ranking doesn’t mean much before tourney
By LaMond Pope 648-3090 or firstname.lastname@example.org March 1, 2013 6:44PM
Fans rush the court after Minnesota defeated Indiana 77-73 in an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid)
Updated: April 3, 2013 6:15AM
Are you still shaking off Indiana’s loss to Minnesota?
Have you been waking up in the middle of the night screaming, “grab a rebound” to no one in particular?
Dreading the thought that IU is likely going to fall out of the top spot in the polls come Monday?
Well, I’ve got a bit of historical perspective that might ease the pain.
Guess how many times in the past 10 years that the No. 1 team in the final voting of The Associated Press men’s basketball poll has gone on to win the national championship.
The answer is just once.
Kentucky accomplished the feat last season. Prior to that, one has to go all the way back to 2001 when Duke completed the achievement.
I think the stat speaks more to the unpredictability of March than the knowledge of the voters. And no, I’m not saying that just because I’ve been one of those voters in the AP poll since the 2008-09 season.
There isn’t an AP poll after the NCAA Tournament wraps up. Voters produce their final ballots after the conference tournaments.
With March Madness right around the corner, I decided to take a look at how recent No. 1 teams have fared.
Louisville was No. 1 at the end of the 2008-09 season. The Cardinals lost to Michigan State in the regional final. The voters weren’t all that far off. North Carolina, ranked No. 2 in the final poll, defeated the Spartans for the national title. Michigan State was ranked No. 8.
Kansas finished first in the final 2009-10 rankings. The Jayhawks were stunned by Northern Iowa in the second round of that year’s tournament. Duke, which was ranked third, topped No. 11 Butler in a classic title game.
The Bulldogs returned to the title game in 2011 and faced Connecticut in what many consider the exact opposite of a classic championship contest. Butler was unranked in the final AP poll that year. Connecticut — the eventual national champion — picked up steam late in the season. The Huskies won the Big East Tournament to get to No. 9 in the poll. Ohio State finished at No. 1 in the final poll that season. But the Buckeyes lost to Kentucky in the regional semifinal.
Kentucky finally snapped the streak last season, beating Kansas for the championship. The Jayhawks were sixth in the final poll.
This all shows that even after a regular season full of data, we still don’t know what’s going to happen in the tournament.
And if the upcoming postseason is anything like this 2012-13 regular season, that is sure to continue.
The No. 1 team has lost seven times this season. That’s actually happened eight previous seasons, the most recent in 2009-10, the year Kansas lost in the second round.
Indiana has lost three times as the No. 1 team this season (against Butler, Illinois and now Minnesota). IU remained No. 1 the week after the Feb. 7 last-second road loss to the Illini. Part of the reason I kept the Hoosiers at the top spot was the bounce-back performance three days later at then-No. 10 Ohio State, an 81-68 thumping of the Buckeyes. Another reason was because one of the next best options, Duke, had a shaky victory later Feb. 10 at Boston College.
I’d be surprised if the Hoosiers remain at the top of the poll this time.
It looks likely Gonzaga will be the team that will replace them.
Here is what’s going on in the mind of one voter.
The Bulldogs are riding an 11-game winning streak and have won 19 of 20. Gonzaga has lost just twice (against Illinois and at Butler) this season, but the strength of schedule is a concern. In Gonzaga’s favor, the Bulldogs have victories against Kansas State and Oklahoma State. I had Gonzaga at No. 2 in last week’s poll.
Another option could have been the winner of tonight’s Duke-Miami game. But the Blue Devils stumbled Thursday at Virginia. Miami might still be able to make a case if it beats Duke for a second time this season. Miami crushed the Blue Devils 90-63 on Jan. 23. The Hurricanes eventually made it to No. 2 in the poll, but the team dropped to fifth after losing at Wake Forest last week.
Kansas (23-4) and Georgetown (21-4) might even get a few votes. The Jayhawks and Hoyas sit atop the Big 12 and Big East, respectively. The Hoyas have won 10 in a row. Some voters could stick with the Hoosiers.
I’m leaning in the direction of Gonzaga. The Bulldogs just keep rolling. But I’m glad I have until late Sunday to figure it all out.
The variety of options for the top spot makes for a fun debate. And that’s why I love the poll. It keeps people arguing about college basketball throughout the winter.
Just don’t use it as a tool when it comes time to fill out your bracket.