Jacob Levitt gives three weekly thoughts on the AP Poll
1. Don’t Write Off The ACC Just Yet
The AP Poll still has only one ACC team in the top-25 (No. 1 Duke), but that doesn’t mean that the ACC didn’t have an impact. Coming off a 12-point loss at No. 16 Illinois, unranked North Carolina climbed near the top of the “Others receiving votes” category with a two-point win over then-No. 10 Kentucky in Chapel Hill. That’s a big time win against a spectacularly talented team. The Tar Heels may be inconsistent, but they clearly have the potential to do some damage when they’re on top of their game.
Last week I said that any ACC team—except Virginia—which beat a ranked opponent would make take a spot in this week’s poll. Well, Virginia was the only one that won its challenge game, and it did so in remarkable fashion, giving then No. 15 Minnesota its first loss by a wide margin at home. The Cavaliers then went on to beat rival Virginia Tech on the road, proving that Tony Bennett’s squad can’t be written off despite its early losses. Now Virginia Tech, a popular preseason dark-horse, must prove its mettle. The Hokies took then-No. 22 Purdue—a solid team even without Robbie Hummel—to overtime in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but close won’t cut it for this year’s squad. They have too much talent to continue to struggle, however, and I expect their strength-of-schedule numbers to help them into this year’s tournament if they can pick up a signature win during conference play.
2. Duke Probably Won’t Go Undefeated
It’s just too hard. Against unranked Butler, in front of a highly favorable crowd, the Blue Devils couldn’t break away until the final 10 minutes. Prior to the Butler game, Duke had never really been in trouble, never trailing by more than two points and never later than 9:37 into the game. In the ACC, Duke will have at least three true road games against teams more talented than Butler—at Maryland, North Carolina, and Florida State—in which analyst Ken Pomeroy gives the team less than an 80% chance of victory. There’s also a game at Saint John’s in which the Blue Devils have “only” an 80% chance.
There won’t be a game the Duke isn’t favored to win, but in the Comcast Center (Maryland), Madison Square Garden (St. John’s), or the Dean Smith Center (North Carolina), I can’t envision the Blue Devils getting off to a start like they did on Saturday and still coming away with a victory. And that’s fine. Mike Krzyzewski has acknowledged that last year’s championship couldn’t have happened without lessons learned from last year’s defeats. Maybe the scare against the Bulldogs will serve as a wake up call, but my gut instinct is that this year’s squad won’t go undefeated.
3. Great Games Coming Up
Although most almost every school in the country is fast approaching the end of their fall semester (or quarter) and the final exams that come with it, some of the biggest tests in the upcoming week won’t take place in the classroom. Tuesday night’s Jimmy V Classic in New York looks especially promising. The doubleheader features No. 4 Kansas plays No. 13 Memphis, immediately followed by No. 7 Michigan State against No. 8 Syracuse. Saturday will be another big night for games as No. 3 Pittsburgh takes on No. 12 Tennessee, which has overcome a scandal-wracked offseason to get off to a hot start. It’s probably not worth failing a test to see those games, but they’re almost certain to have an impact on the college basketball landscape as the season moves forward.
Bonus Thought: Polling Errors
This isn’t really a thought on basketball as much as it is a thought on the way the AP Poll defines a “week.” When the poll is released each Monday, each team is ranked by points received (25 for a first place vote, 24 for second, etc.) when the ballots of 65 voters are tallied up. The poll also lists first-place votes received, the previous week’s ranking, games that took place over the last week, and the games for the upcoming week. In college football, that works perfectly well, as almost all the games take place on Saturday and everything is finished up by Monday morning. But college basketball games take place every day.
This week No. 22 Minnesota dropped seven spots, which isn’t unreasonable after a home loss to an unranked team. Looking at the AP Poll, however, one would think that the Golden Gophers’ drop was incredibly unfair, because the only game listed for “Last Week” is a five-point win over Cornell. It was the loss to Virginia, of course, that caused the drop, but there’s no way for a reader to know that took place given the format of the poll without looking at last week’s edition. Doing that online (the only venue where it’s really convenient) is even more confusing, though. According to last week’s rankings, Minnesota had a 6-0 record with a 87-79 loss at home just before the poll was released—really, that’s how they list it. My solution: any games that take place Monday night should be counted as part of the next week. That’s not too much to ask, right?