In our Weekly Poll Watch posted yesterday, a commenter asked how anybody could vote for Wisconsin at No. 12 after the Badgers lost to Iowa over the weekend.
The answer, we believe, is inertia. Voters have long believed that the 2011-12 Wisconsin Badgers are a good basketball team. They started the season at No. 15 at climbed as high as No. 9 in AP and No. 7 in the coaches poll.
Now, despite home losses to Marquette and Iowa, many voters continue to put the Badgers right around where they’ve been all year.
The Badgers aren’t alone. Voters tend to reward teams they perceive to be good – performance on the floor notwithstanding. And many of the teams they perceive to be good are those they thought were good in October.
As for teams they believed to be less good? It’s a bit of a slog up the polls.
Consider the following team profiles:
- Wins over No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation at home.
- Loss to No. 15 team on the road.
- Two road wins.
- No. 4 in Sagarin.
- No. 8 in kenpom.
- No. 13 in RPI.
- Overtime win over No. 19 team in nation at home.
- Loss to No. 12 team in the nation at home.
- Loss to No. 3 team in nation on road.
- One road win.
- No. 13 in Sagarin.
- No. 17 in kenpom.
- No. 11 in RPI.
Based on that resume, which team should be ranked higher in week nine of the college basketball season?
Team A, of course, is Indiana. Team B is Louisville.
Why – based solely on performance to date – would Louisville be ranked higher than the Hoosiers? Yet they are No. 11 in the latest AP poll, with Indiana right behind at 12.
Let’s look at our inertia theory:
Louisville So Far
The Cardinals started the season at No. 9.
Week by week, the Cardinals climbed as other teams got knocked off: No. 8 in week 1, then No. 7, No. 6, No. 5 and then finally leveled off at No. 4 for three weeks. They did this despite not having a signature win, unless you count a home overtime win over then-No. 19 Vanderbilt (a team that earlier lost to Cleveland State and has since lost to Indiana State).
The Cardinals weren’t even blowing out lesser opponents: a 10-point win over Western Kentucky, seven over College of Charleston, five over Ohio (a fine MAC team but one that just lost to Robert Morris). In the midst of a 12-game winning streak, Louisville had one road win – at Butler.
Finally, Louisville lost to No. 12 Georgetown at home and No. 3 Kentucky in Lexington last week – dropping them from No. 4 to No. 11.
Indiana So Far
Indiana? Well, the Hoosiers understandably started the season with zero votes, with some Big Ten writers picking them to finish last in the conference after an 11th place finish last year.
Indiana blew through the early schedule, including a true road win at Evansville and a home game against Butler, with easy double-digit wins before heading to North Carolina State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. That turned into another double-digit win on the road over a team that had beaten Texas the week before but hadn’t done much otherwise.
That earned Indiana two or three votes, but – still understandably – no ranking.
Ten days later, however, Indiana stunned No. 1 Kentucky in Bloomington – leading the Hoosiers to join the Top 25 at No. 18. After wins against Notre Dame and two nobodies, the Hoosiers climbed to No. 17 and then No. 13 entering Big Ten play.
After losing to No. 15 Michigan State on the road, the Hoosiers beat No. 2 Ohio State at home – giving them wins over the then-No. 1 and then-No. 2 teams in the nation.
Either one of those wins is far and away better than anything Louisville has done this season. Together? The body of work isn’t even close between the two teams.
Yet, there is Jason Franchuk of the Provo Daily Herald voting the Cardinals No. 4 this week – and Indiana a reasonable No. 10. Bill Cole of the Winston-Salem Journal voted Louisville No. 5 – and Indiana 14th. Roger Clarkson voted Louisville No. 9 (which is fine) – but Indiana at 18.
Really? The Cardinals deserve to be No. 4 or 5? And really? The Hoosiers have performed six to nine spots worse than the Cardinals?
Please show your work.
That, of course, is not to say Indiana should be ranked higher in the polls. Nor is it to say with any certainty that Indiana would beat the Cardinals on a neutral court, in Louisville or even in Bloomington.
It merely is to say that Indiana – without a doubt – has played better basketball than Louisville so far in the 2011-12 college basketball season.
No matter how anybody voted in the preseason polls.
(All information from the invaluable Pollspeak.)